I am a fan of John Irving and, until ‘In One Person’ came along, this has always been my favourite of his novels. The status of favourite is not an important one since I would hate to have to choose or be in a position where I could only have one of his novels on my shelf; I want them all!
However, this was a three o’clock in the morning book, I just had to finish it. It is the story of John and his best friend, Owen Meany, who grow up together in a New England town during the 50s and 60s. When we meet John, he is living in Canada having escaped the Reaganite USA. We find out about his life in exile and, in the second time frame, about his youth with Owen Meany.
Owen thinks he is an instrument of God and his life is to be lived to fulfill the purpose God has for him. As the son of a working class man his friendship with the more wealthy John is unusual but they are firm friends and Owen spends much of his time at John’s house. In a baseball game, a foul ball hits John’s mother on the head and kills her instantly. The ball was hit by Owen Meany.
As they grow up, the boys’ continue to grow as friends, even the death of his mother does not prevent John from being close to Owen. They move on from High school and, when it comes along, the Vietnam War affects them both. Indeed, it is the war that proves to be a defining point of both their lives; John is against the war and intends to avoid participating, Owen feels it is part of his destiny.
Throughout the book, there are references to the spiritual as well as the John Irving theme of knowing your father. It is essentially a book about friendship and the special people who shape our lives, whether they remain with us physically or not. For the record, I prefer the newer cover, I saw in a book shop recently, to the one I have on my shelves.
‘A Prayer for Owen Meany’ is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?