A tidbit I learned whilst reading was that much like the narrator, John Wheelwright, John Irving's mother never revealed the identity of his father to him. Apparently this book contains a lot of Irving's biography (well mixed with fiction) which may interest someone, but not really me.
The thought experiment: what would it take to make me a Christian? is interesting. And it plays out here in the form of one Owen Meany -- annoying prophetic child who knows, without any doubt, that he's an instrument of God. People who have zero doubt are often very irritating, as Owen can be. Owen hasn't arrived at his doubtless state without interrogating his faith or life, though. He's not full of faith because he refuses to see reality, in fact it's almost the opposite. He seems to have questioned and still believes his fate and purpose. I grew up in the Catholic church and never met a person like this until I was already quite the doubting Thomas. However, I can attest to how discombobulating strong faith can be in the face of endless questioning, and this is what Irving sets up so beautifully, comically and tragically for John and Owen.
Along the way we witness a friendship between two boys and young men that is so charming and graceful and appealing that it's hard not to be moved. The comic scenes are pure gold. (I both read and listened to the Christmas pageant scene many times. I bookmarked my audio copy there, and it made me laugh so hard tears rolled down my face, even when I already knew what was going to be said. It's a perfect scene.)
This novel is dense, full of little details, flies off on what seem like tangents, and more than once I wondered if there was an editor. Then in one fell swoop every single detail that seemed extraneous, silly or irritating falls into place. Details become symbols. Tangents find their meaning. The topsy-turvy struggle between faith and doubt gets an answer -- at least for John. But Owen's "gift" of faith to John is not without cost. John Wheelwright is bitter and confused and doesn't seem to know his own place in the world, though he's clear on Owen's. So even with an easy answer on the question of God, this novel shows how painful a life of faith can still be.
Please read this book if you haven't. I'll evangelize for John Irving's story of friendship, home and faith. Hang in through the unholy capitalization and irritation, your belief in the story will be rewarded.