Sunday, August 15, 1999

A Prayer For Owen Meany

by John Irving

What is this 617-page slab o’ popular writing about? A tiny boy who shouts, who is God’s instrument. Faith, doubt, premeditation, the dumbing of America, television, Why Were We In Vietnam, sacrifice, righteousness, search for father, search for self, search for national identity. Owen is that tiny boy, become a tiny man, who sacrifices his life to save children, as he always knew he would. Johnny, the narrator, is his best friend, who learns to have faith in God even as he grows more cynical about America.

Just as everything Owen does is for a purpose, so everything written in the book has a purpose – Irving doesn’t mention a palm tree unless it matters, so it’s fairly easy to guess what will happen to Owen as each new clue is dropped. On the other hand, I never guessed who Johnny’s father was. I was slightly put off by Irving’s rich liberal critique of the less straight-laced left: Abbie Hoffman, rock & roll, even the naive single-mindedness of youth is condescendingly dismissed by Irving. On the whole, I admire the book’s power. The writing may not be so very rich or the symbolism subtle, but Irving fiddles with potent philosophical questions, the characters are powerfully drawn, and yes, it is sad when Owen dies. I fell under the book’s spell.

four stars