Owen Meany is a midget. A very small one if you believe the first pages of the novel, like a primordial dwarf. With the voice and all. But he later grows to be five foot tall, so what do I know? Being a midget is the only problem Owen ever had. He's abnormally smart, charismatic and nobody ever disliked him. The only person that tries to pick a fight with him in the novel ends up with a broken finger and a bitten foot. See where I'm going with this? The narrator is Owen's best friend, Johnny Wheelwright, who exiled himself from the U.S voluntarily, to teach literature in a school in Toronto. He recalls his memories with Owen Meany, like an apostle the teachings of Christ, and it's annoying as hell. Johnny is a pathetic excuse for a narrator, he cannot think by himself and cannot give one ounce of intellectual opposition to his little buddy. He follows Owen wherever he goes, gets into whatever plans he organizes and shows really poor critical thinking...yeah, until Owen teaches him how to.
So the question is: was Owen Meany meant to be a Christ-like figure? According to John Irving's afterword, yes. And it was meant that he would be irritatingly right every single time. Because prophets are always right, so Mr. Irving says. The point of A Prayer For Owen Meany to him, was that you have to be a believer to witness a miracle and the six-hundred-something pages of his books are the metamorphosis of Johnny Wheelwright into that believer. So that's the thing, Johnny is supposed to be the conflicted one, not Owen. Even if Owen is the novel's main attraction. In that sense, it's a pretty smart set-up by Irving. And he almost pulls it off. I'm not sure if the pace of the novel is an attempt at non-linearity or if he genuinely struggled with his ideas, but for five hundred pages, Johnny's inner conflict with patriotism stays unrelated with the story and makes him a nagging necessity, more than a plus to the story. It's confusing to jump back in time from Johnny's youth to 1987, only to hear him moan about the Reagan regime and loneliness. Many time I jumped over some paragraphs, silently saying: "Dude, man up".
But John Irving drives home and connect both stories around page five hundred. I don't want to spoil anything, so let's take it like this. Johnny Wheelwright has shaped his life around his friendship for Owen Meany. And that becomes a problem when Owen passes away and John loses his only beacon in the night, if I can express myself like this. In the end, Johnny is as pretty messed up character and his lack of faith is somewhat to blame for this. But for most of the novel, it reads like the longest family movie you've ever seen. The youth chapters are cute at first, but end up dragging oooon with pompous religious analogy. There is a whoooole chapter about Christmas that I would've cut off. The symbolism can get pretty cool. I particularly appreciated the JFK-Marilyn Monroe relationship as a metaphor for collective loss of innocence. The Armadillo, the sewing dummy, the base-ball cards, were also great, if not a little outspoken. Memories and objects interested me more than the actual humans of A Prayer For Owen Meany. Not a bad read, more of a beach book for intellectuals than anything else. Something tells me I should have picked up The World According To Garp for a first dance with John Irving...