This novel is as close to perfect as a novel can get. It took me months to get through, just because I had other books I had to read first. I wish I had read it the whole way through because the plot covers many years of the lives of Owen Meany and John Wheelwright (our narrator), but every event is an important highlight in a remarkable story.
Owen is an unforgettable character. He’s developmentally different – he’s small – only about five feet tall when he is an adult – and he has a very distinguished voice. Author John Irving captures Owen’s speech in all caps, which helps the reader imagine that his voice is loud and slightly unnerving. I’ve read reviews where people are put off by this, but I really liked it. It helped me picture Owen more clearly. Owen is also special – he believes he is an instrument of God. First, very early in the story (this is not a spoiler – you can read this on the book jacket), he hits a baseball that kills John’s mother. From that point on he is convinced that nothing is an accident. As he grows up, we see the impact of Owen on so many people – adults and children alike. From his role in the Christmas play that frightens some and shakes others’ faith to his column “THE VOICE” in his high school newspaper which stirs up controversy, to the heroic act which fulfills his destiny, there is no doubt that Owen Meany lived up to his notion.
I wish I had a book club or even a high school class with which to discuss this book because it is rich with so many themes – religion obviously is a huge one. Owen is not a religious person but he develops a deep friendship with Rev. Merrill, whom he asks to say the titular prayer. He “banishes” his parents from the Catholic church during the Christmas pageant claiming it is sacrilege for them to be there. He defaces a religious statue and later replaces it. And he creates sorts of idols to worship – such as the armadillo seen on this particular cover – which was a gift of John’s that Owen coveted, and the dressmaker’s dummy which belonged to John’s mom, with whom Owen was infatuated. Not to mention the fateful baseball that took John’s mother’s life … which leads John to discover who his true father is…
My least favorite portion of the novel was the present day (1980’s) narrations of John in Canada, displeased with the U.S., and in particular, the Iran-Contra affair. Although it’s an essential piece of the story, because the fact that John is IN Canada has everything to do with Owen. The story itself takes place in the 60’s and American history is woven throughout the story. Owen has strong feelings about JFK (in particular his alleged relationship with Marilyn Monroe), and the Vietnam War is a huge catalyst to the act of heroism that Owen performs.
I don’t think I can gush enough about this one. Just a solid, well-crafted story that is touching and thought-provoking, with an unforgettable central character. I would definitely recommend this — AND I plan on re-reading it at some point in my life. It’s that good.
By the way, I completed this book for the 2014 TBR Pile Reading Challenge. I believe that makes two books marked off my list!