Thursday, October 23, 2008

A Prayer for Owen Meany

A Prayer for Owen Meany is about the character of Owen Meany. It's hard to describe the plot of this book without numerous spoilers, but since every single person I mentioned I was reading it to either immediately put their hand over their hearts and said something like "Aaaaw, Owen Meany..." in a wistful manner OR muttered something about having only read half of it, I'm guessing I'm not really "spoiling" it for anyone. In fact, I feel like I'm the last person on earth to have read this book.

Owen Meany is an unnaturally tiny boy with a super weird and loud voice and Johnny Wheelright, who tells the story is his best friend. They grow up together in a small New Hampshire town in the 40s and 50s. Much of this book is standard coming of age stuff, but what gives it an edge is the how uniquely self assured the tiny Owen Meany is from an early age. There's a lot of religious context that was largely lost on me, but basically you come to learn that for various reasons, Owen Meany believes he is a messenger, or instrument of God. You follow his story from the age of about 10 to his death in his early 20s. Since the book is about a million pages long, this is a grossly oversimplified version of the plot, but it's the best I can do.

This book took me forever to read. I'm still not exactly sure why that is. There's the obvious reason of the book being a million pages long, but I will also admit to being kind of bored at times. Even as I type that though, I feel guilt. I wasn't bored because it was a bad book, but Mr. Irving tended to wander off subject for long periods of time and the sections of the book that focused on John's current life were Bor to the ing. I think maybe my most fundamental "issue" with this book was that I really didn't care for the narrator, Johnny Wheelright. He was such a lump! And even in adulthood, he was tedious and disappointing and I started to wonder if Judd Apatow based Steve Carell's character from The 40 Year Old Virgin off of him (only NOT funny). But I digress.

Despite my confessing to being bored on occasion, I was also entranced by Owen. Growing up, I was more than a little on the runty side myself and I most certainly had a loud and unique voice that I gradually (mostly) grew into. But I never thought I was a messenger of God. And through the telling of the story, you do start to wonder - was he? And the story of his death (which is sort of overly alluded to for like 900 pages) is soo sad. I loved the story of the armadillo and I really liked the latter half of the book, when Vietnam and the events of the 60s play a major role in the development of the characters. It was sad, but poignant and many of Owen's opinions during this part of the book felt more than a little relevant to the current social and political climate in the US (the idiocy of some politicians, the excitement of JFK's election, the embarrassment over Vietnam and the bitterness and sarcasm needed to cope).

I was thankful that I hadn't seen the movie and couldn't even remember a preview for it, so I didn't have any weird preconceived ideas of the story. I must confess that I'm just the tiniest bit curious to see it now, despite everyone having told me that it is a terrible adaptation.

This was my 4th book read for the New Classics Challenge. For a monster of a book, I feel like I should have something more to say. But I think I've spent so long reading this book, my thoughts on the issue are sort of exhausted. Sorry to disappoint.


PageTurner said...

Though I'd count myself among those who would say "Aw..Owen Meany" I have to agree-at times it was incredibly boring. The overall book was good, but sometimes I wished he'd just hurry up and get through it already! And I agree, what a difficult book to review without giving anything away!

Anonymous said...

I haven't read this! So, now, maybe I'm the last one on the planet? I have never read any John Irving and can never decide which one to start with.

I liked your review very much. NOT bor to the ing; I liked the very personal touch. Thank you.

oh - I didn't know they've made a movie of this...

Jeane said...

In high school I knew a girl who was carrying this book around for weeks. I tried it- but really didn't get very far at all. Everyone says it's so good, though.

Anonymous said...

I just finished this one so maybe you're not the last one! I agree with your review. I posted my review just now.

I didn't know it was a movie. I'll have to check it out.

Ms. Griffin said...

I am so f-ing late in getting to this review damn it. Geez that's a lot of cussing hope EBC doesn't mind. Anyhooo...

to all the people above me- DO NOT see the movie. I am actually one of the few people who loves Jim Carrey's more serious roles, but this is not one of those times. I think the only John Irving adaptation that came across well was "The World According to Garp". Other then that it's all crap.

You know that I love this book, you know this is literally my favorite book of all time. and I am pretty sure that I have just used the word literally wrong on a blog about literary matters. I've also just had the last of a bottle of wine and don't care.

I am glad you gave it a chance, and returned it before I moved.

that's all.