My decade-old mass-market copy of this novel was just about to bite the dust,
so I was quite glad that this year (2002) they came out with a new Modern Library hardcover
commemorating this recent classic. I of course had to break in my new copy,
so I re-read it
again. And once again, I enjoyed it thoroughly.
This is, in my opinion, John Irvings best book. Its very quirky,
but seems to be the least off-the-wall of his stories, and has the best characters.
The storys narrator, John Wheelwright, tells the story from the viewpoint
of1987, looking back on his best friend, Owen Meany. Owen was very small (not
even five feet when he was fully grown), and had a wrecked voicethat
is, his voice was fixed in a permanent screa
m (Irving represents all Owens
dialogue in ALL CAPS). But these werent the most distinctive things about
Owen. The most distinctive thing was his unusual Christian faitha faith
that he was GODS INSTRUMENT. Its Owens faith that John credits
as the cause of his own eventual faith.
This book is hilarious at timesthe (quite unorthodox) Christmas pageant
scene, in which Owen plays the Christ child (and makes it into a speaking role)
is alone worth reading it for, which is why its great to read around Christmas.
But since the book covers about forty years (its quite Dickensian in that
way), theres no need to only read it at Christmas, and humor is definitely
not the only emotion this well-crafted novel evokes. As for themes, its
about finding family (Owen helps John in the search of his real father); its
about baseball (especially a certain fated game that caused the characters to
wince at the crack of a bat thereafter); its about American politics (and
the Vietnam war); and its about faith and doubt and miracles (and the
unlikeliest of Gods instruments).
If any of this sounds vaguely familiar, the movie Simon Birch was loosely
based on A Prayer for Owen Meany, but so loosely that the movie doesnt
bear the same name. And rightly sothey changed major parts of the plot
and characterization for the movie version. For instance, the movie had nothing
to do with the Vietnam war, though it's a major theme in the book.
Interested in John Irving? Read Kristins
review of A Son of the Circus. Interested in humorous novels about the Vietnam
era and baseball? Read my
review of another one of my favorites, The Brothers K by David James Duncan.