Monday, May 28, 2012

For Review: A Prayer for Owen Meany ~ John Irving

Sometimes I finish a book and I just want to gush; I have the hugest desire to tell the entire world what a wonderful work of fiction I've just read. When I finished A Prayer for Owen Meany I had to stop crying first. The ending was inevitable and the clues are there throughout the novel, but it was beyond beautiful and sad. Just sublime. So the crying had to stop, and then the aching in my heart whenever I thought about this detail or that detail. If I had wanted to, I could've written a long review just saying over and over again how brilliant this book is. But that's no justice. Probably, this review will still struggle to be completely free of those overriding feelings of WOW, but that's just how the book goes.

Owen Meany is eleven years old when he hits a baseball that kills his best friend's mother. That's not even spoiling any plot - that's just the start. Johnny Wheelwright narrates the story of his life, how he deals with his mother's death, and what becomes of his friendship with Owen Meany. But where to begin with this? What to say?

Johnny is much older as he recalls his story, with all of the power of hindsight and reflection. He's conscious of himself as a narrator, and lightly comments on parts of the story that will be given further clarification later. But then, there are things that he doesn't dwell on, and those are the strongest moments. Everything mentioned or described is deliberate. At points I wondered why he spent paragraphs upon paragraphs explaining one thing or the other, such as the diamond wheel at Owen Meany's granite shop, and then comes the revelation, the realisation of why it was important in the first place.

No coincidence. Owen Meany doesn't believe in coincidence, not even that he was the cause of Johnny's mother's death. Because Owen believes that he is working under God's will, that he is His instrument for some greater good. Yet he's a small boy, a dwarfish teen, and his dialogue is presented IN CAPITAL LETTERS BECAUSE THERE'S A PROBLEM WITH HIS VOICE THAT MAKES HIM SOUND LIKE HE'S ALWAYS SCREAMING AND IT MIRRORS HOW IRRITATING HIS VOICE IS BUT EMPHASISES EVERYTHING HE SAYS. Owen knows his fate, but doesn't share it with Johnny, and the reader shares the anxiety and frustration of needing know, but never fully finding out until the last possible moment. And what a moment. Deep breath.

A Prayer for Owen Meany moved me. Completely and utterly. It's a battle of faith and love, and it appeals to all my own ideas of faith and belief. And in a background of 50s and 60s New Hampshire. My knowledge of America during those times was reasonably minimal, but there's a whole world of political goings on happening behind the scenes. It's a book of big and small, the little details and the big picture, and it encompasses so much, but Irving is never ugly with it, never blatant or pushy, despite the claims some characters make. That, and John Wheelwright refers to Thomas Hardy, and often, which is always a huge turn on. More than all of this is how humble the story is - just two boys who are best friends, both struck with tragedy and forced to grow up, to move on.

It's always a delight when you find a book that you want to share with everyone in the whole world ever. I want everyone to read this and to feel the same things that I felt with it. It was thoughtful, tender, funny, bittersweet, sweet, heartbreaking, and just a fantastically clever piece of work. Days after finishing A Prayer For Owen Meany and I'm still recalling details, the things people said and did, all that made a difference to someone else, subtle or huge. Reviewers talk about books that 'stay with you', but this is serious, and I love it.