Sunday, 9 August 2015

Lev Butts Reviews A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

Despite the cover, this is not the heartwarming
story of a stone-cutting armadillo.
I first read John Irving's The World According to Garp when I was a freshman in high school after having watched the film (As a kid, I'd wanted to see it when it was in the theaters because it had Mork in it, but my mother wisely said it was too "old" for me).

"But Moooooooom."
I fell in love with Irving's quirky blend of realism, absurdity, and Dickensian plotting and determined to read everything he had written. Everything I read just got better and better (because I had randomly read the novels in the order they were written). Cider House Rules blew me away, and I didn't think anything could ever be better.

Then, the spring of my junior year, I saw A Prayer for Owen Meany in the mall bookstore and bought it.

If I were doing this list in order of importance, this novel would be in the top three, quite possibly the top one. Irving's seventh novel has so many things going for it I can't even list them all. It has what, for my money, is the best first sentence in any novel I've ever read:
I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice—not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother's death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.
It tells you everything you need to know about the novel without actually telling you a damn thing. Who couldn't keep reading after that doozy of a sentence? And thus begins the tale of Little Johnny Wheelwright, the fatherless son of the the best-breasted mother in town and his best friend Owen Meany, the dimunitive, gravel-voiced son of Meany Granite Quarry.

Part retelling of The Scarlet Letter, part idyllic memoir of a New England childhood, part scathing critique of the Vietnam War and the Reagan Era, A Prayer for Owen Meany is so much more. If Gaiman shows us how to make the mundane magical, Irving masterfully makes the magical mundane. Only John Irving can fill a book with prophetic dreams and visions, near-divine miracles, and at least one visit from beyond the grave and make them all feel perfectly normal, like they ain't no thang.

I warn you, though; this is one book you definitely want to read. Do yourself a favor and avoid the train-wreck of a film they made from it. Jim Carrey's ham-fisted framing story is only the least worst thing about it.

I am doomed to remember a film with a wrecked plot—
not because of its plot, or because it was the worst film I ever saw,
 or even because it was the instrument of my first public fanboy rage,
but because it is the reason I lost my faith in Hollywood;
I am a cynic because of Simon Birch.

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