Dedicated to classics and hits.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A Prayer for Owen Meany (1989) by John Irving

Image result for simon birch
Actor Ian Michael Smith played Owen Meany (Simon Birch) in the movie.  Smith suffers from Morquio syndrome, a type of dwarfism. 
Book Review
A Prayer for Owen Meany (1989)
 by John Irving

   A Prayer for Owen Meany is one of those "popular, critically acclaimed artist at the top of their game" releases that is well received upon release, but ages badly.  The aging process was not helped by a movie version that was so bad that Irving forced the makers to rename the film (Simon Birch).  In 2017, reading A Prayer for Owen Meany was a tedious experience.  First of all, it's something like 650 pages long- well over a thousand pages in the large print edition I accidentally checked out from the library.  Despite being 650 pages long, Owen Meany doesn't cover a whole lot of territory- basically it discusses the friendship between John Wheelwright, the mini-scion of a regionally important Maine family, and his dwarf-like best friend, Owen Meany.

   A Prayer for Owen Meany is about a lot of things:  friendship, religion, family tragedy, New England private school education, the Vietnam War and the Reagan era Iran Contra shenanigans.  Narrated from a present where Wheelwright is teaching girls school in Canada, a forty year old version, he recounts the shared life of himself and Meany through Meany's untimely demise (not a spoiler, Wheelwright makes clear in the first chapter that Meany has been deceased for some time).

   Irving is nothing if not consistent, if you wanted to change the names around you could almost put The World According to Garp, Cider House Rules and this book in order and call it one book.   Personally, I don't think that Irving is going to a canonical author a century for now.   His books just aren't arty enough and they are long, long, long.  His milieu, that of straight white men from New England coming of age in the mid 20th century, are highly unlikely to evoke the kind of revival interest among academics of the kind sparked by representatives of less familiar groups, none of the movie versions have made it to "classic" status.  No one is ever going to that John Irving is "cool" ever again.

  The main argument for Irving's canonical inclusion is his continued popularity with a mass audience.  As I'm writing this, the most recent edition of this book is a top 5000 Amazon title, followed closely by Cider House and Garp.  John Irving is still being read, in other words, and an author who combines critical and popular acclaim is likely to stay canonical as long as said works continue to be purchased by a large audience. 

No comments:

Blog Archive