The usually reliable Groom (Better Times Than These, Conversations with the Enemy) turns as gawky and ham-handed as his...

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FORREST GUMP

The usually reliable Groom (Better Times Than These, Conversations with the Enemy) turns as gawky and ham-handed as his hero--Forrest Gump, contemporary American idiot--in this stumbling, droopy-drawered attempt at a picaresque novel. The narrator is Gump himself, of Mobile, Alabama, 6'6"", 242 pounds, and all idiot: ""I've been a idiot since I was born. My IQ is 61, which qualifies me, so they say."" And off we go, Gump starring as a self-consciously literary half-wit (he's a fan of Lennie and Boo Radley) while Groom makes Statements about America. After surviving a poor-white-trash childhood that would've destroyed better men (such as, say, Benjy), Gump is plucked from obscurity by Coach Bear Bryant and taken to play football at the University of Alabama. His teachers there discover he's an idiot savant--he can't pass Gym 101, but he knows the theory of relativity like nobody's business. Before they can exploit him, however, he flunks out, gets drafted and sent to Vietnam, and wins the Congressional Medal of Honor, mainly because he's too dumb to be afraid. After a publicity tour which takes him as far as China, he leaves the Army and goes through a hippy/protest phase (the freaks think he's, yuk-yuk, far out) but gets busted when he throws his Medal over the White House fence during a demonstration. The authorities give him a choice: he can have permanent hospitalization as a dangerous moron, or he can take his computer brain on a secret NASA space flight (""Look,"" I tell him, ""I am just a idiot""). He crashlands in New Guinea, spends four years playing chess with a Yale-educated cannibal, then is rescued and taken to a crude caricature of President Nixon for congratulations: ""I am your commander-in-chief. I am not a crook. I do not lie!"" After this, it's the dismal 70's, and Gump tries his hand at professional wrestling, tournament chess, and shrimping, before settling happily down as a street musician in New Orleans. A heavy-handed, one-joke (Forrest confounds and frustrates various teachers, coaches, Army sergeants, and Presidents) sort of novel which is, finally, a cheat: Forrest, after all, isn't really an idiot--he's simply a country boy who doesn't test well.

Pub Date: March 7, 1986

ISBN: 0743453255

Page Count: -

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1986