Owen ain’t no Meany… John Irving’s masterpiece

I’m going to be honest with you. This is a book you should read. Yes it might seem a little bit intimidating due to its size, and yes the title and cover almost guarantee a tear-jerker, (like the cover of Free Willy) but just get past all that and read the book. You’ll be hooked by possibly the most intriguing first sentence I have come across in any work of literature:

John Irving“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.”

After this – you’re obligated to keep going. And it will be a move that you won’t regret. Johnny Wheelwright is the narrator of John Irving’s novel – and the book is written in the form of memoir of Johnny’s life. At first it seems that Johnny just has diarrhea of the mouth and is regurgitating everything he can remember about his childhood in no particular order. In fact, it is almost overwhelming to the reader. There is a nonstop flood of hilarious and heartbreaking stories, one after the other, that seem to have little to no connection throughout the novel – almost as if they were episodes of some brilliantly written 30 minute television program. But Irving is setting a trap that will spring on you unexpectedly (tread lightly).

Johnny grows up in a small town in New Hampshire with his best friend, Owen Meany, a dwarfed child with a haunting voice. The two develop a peculiar yet heart-warming friendship that drives the powerfully written work into a sentimental masterpiece. Accenting the enjoyable companionship of Johnny and Owen is the eerie sentence that begins the book, anchoring the entire work in the beautiful tale of how  Owen impacts John’s religious convictions. It is a story of friendship, fate, and faith that had me laughing hysterically and crying almost as much. The tour-de-force of metaphors, allusions, and foreshadowing constructs a brilliant coming-of-age narrative that explores the nostalgia of childhood, the pain of emerging adolescence, and the striking reality of adulthood (teased out with the drama surrounding the Vietnam War). It was difficult for me to read a book like this after graduating college, getting my first full time job, becoming financially independent, and getting married within the span of a few months. It made me long for mom’s pancakes from childhood, and the mischief of my grade school days  (despite what many of you may think).

I love this book. You should read it. Be careful though – you will be in an existential funk when you turn the last page. It will cause a great deal of reflection and will stir emotions inside of you that haven’t popped up in awhile (that is if you’re like me and primarily stick to books like Percy Jackson and Ender’s Game). This one is a classic and will be cherished atop shelf number 5.


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