Neither thumbs up nor thumbs down for A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. Literature.
I have a friend who jokes that I don’t read any living male authors. I do, of course; I just don’t read non-genre literature by living male authors—or living anybody, really. This book on my shelf was a counterexample of one. (And that is a beautiful irony, that David unwittingly got me to read John Irving, because he’s a snob who probably hates John Irving.) Anyway, in a nutshell: the eminently slappable middle-aged professor John Wheelwright looks back on his boyhood friendship with Owen Meany, a very distinctive character who from an early age believed that God put him on Earth for a mission. This is not an easy book to nutshell, however. It is tedious and funny and sappy and politically didactic and sexually cringe-inducing and hard to put down and it needed an editor badly. I don’t think I liked it. I’m not entirely sure about that, however. In trying to figure out what I thought, I read other people’s reviews in search of different points of view, and have come to the conclusion that the people who think it is the best book ever (and there are many) are people who needed something that would prompt them to think about the philosophical issues of faith, destiny, predestination, and doubt. It is also a great character study, no doubt. But I keep coming back to this: I wish I’d had a red pen when reading.
“YOUR BOREDOM IS YOUR PROBLEM,” said Owen Meany. “IT’S YOUR LACK OF IMAGINATION THAT BORES YOU. HARDY HAS THE WORLD FIGURED OUT. TESS IS DOOMED. FATE HAS IT IN FOR HER. SHE’S A VICTIM; IF YOU’RE A VICTIM, THE WORLD WILL USE YOU. WHY SHOULD SOMEONE WHO’S GOT SUCH A WORKED-OUT WAY OF SEEING THE WORLD BORE YOU? WHY SHOULDN’T YOU BE INTERESTED IN SOMEONE WHO’S WORKED OUT A WAY TO SEE THE WORLD? THAT’S WHAT MAKES WRITERS INTERESTING! MAYBE YOU SHOULD BE AN ENGLISH MAJOR. AT LEAST, YOU GET TO READ STUFF THAT’S WRITTEN BY PEOPLE WHO CAN WRITE! YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO ANYTHING TO BE AN ENGLISH MAJOR, YOU DON’T NEED ANY SPECIAL TALENT, YOU JUST HAVE TO PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT SOMEONE WANTS YOU TO SEE—TO WHAT MAKES SOMEONE ANGRIEST, OR THE MOST EXCITED IN SOME OTHER WAY. IT’S SO EASY; I THINK THAT’S WHY THERE ARE SO MANY ENGLISH MAJORS.”
If you enjoyed this post, please share it!