Owen Meany is a dwarfish boy with a strange voice who accidentally kills his best friend's mom with a baseball and believes--accurately--that he is an instrument of God, to be redeemed by martyrdom. John Irving's novel, which inspired the 1998 Jim Carrey movie Simon Birch
, is his most popular book in Britain, and perhaps the oddest Christian mystic novel since Flannery O'Connor's work
. Irving fans will find much that is familiar: the New England prep-school-town setting, symbolic amputations of man and beast, the Garp
-like unknown father of the narrator (Owen's orphaned best friend), the rough comedy. The scene of doltish the doltish headmaster driving a trashed VW down the school's marble staircase is a marvelous set piece. So are the Christmas pageants Owen stars in. But it's all, as Highlights
magazine used to put it, "fun with a purpose." When Owen plays baby Jesus in the pageants, and glimpses a tombstone with his death date while enacting A Christmas Carol
, the slapstick doesn't cancel the fact that he was
born to be martyred. The book's countless subplots add up to a moral argument, specifically an indictment of American foreign policy--from Vietnam to the Contras.
The book's mystic religiosity is steeped in Robertson Davies's Deptford trilogy, and the fatal baseball relates to the fatefully misdirected snowball in the first Deptford novel, Fifth Business. Tiny, symbolic Owen echoes the hero of Irving's teacher Günter Grass's The Tin Drum--the two characters share the same initials. A rollicking entertainment, Owen Meany is also a meditation on literature, history, and God. --Tim Appelo
From Publishers Weekly
Joe Barrett captures the humor and sorrow of Irving's classic novel about faith, friendship and fate. We follow the adventures of diminutive Owen Meany and his best friend Johnny Wheelwright as they grapple with life, death and devotion and come of age in the small town of Gravesend, N.H. Barrett deftly portrays a host of strange and wonderful characters as Owen commandeers the local Christmas pageant, battles with an autocratic headmaster and fulfills what he believes to be his destiny. Faced with the unenviable task of capturing the singular voice of the titular character (in the novel, Owen's dialogue is capitalized to represent his strident, squeaking speech), Barrett produces a workmanlike rendition of Owen that, while not perfect, grows on listeners as the story unfolds. True to the spirit of the text, Barrett's masterful rendition is a delight. A Morrow hardcover. (Aug.)
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