One of the things I loved about reading Stephen King’s early work (especially It and The Body) was the way that he was able to capture the essence of childhood. There is something special about the friends that you make in your pre-teen years, you become kindred spirits, you are not yet tainted by prejudices, and growing up together the only important thing is that you are ‘Best Friends’ and ‘Best Friends’ stand by one another through thick and thin. In It that friendship is called upon years later to help defeat an evil that had plagued a group of adults childhood. When King described the times that they spent playing down in The Barrens I really wanted to be a part of it, it was special. No other author, that I have read, has managed to capture this – until now.
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, published in 1989, has totally taken me by surprise. Owen is a rather small boy, with large translucent ears and an embarrassing and unusually high nasally voice (note: Oskar Matzerath from The Tin Drum, who stopped growing when he was three and who had that awful high pitched scream).
Owen is John Wheelwright’s best friend and though John is aware of Owen’s peculiarities he owns that he likes him. Owen’s own family life is not so crash hot so he spends much of his time and many night’s at 80 Front Street, Gravesend; the home of John, his mother and his formidable grandmother and their many antiques. A favourite game of theirs is hiding John’s stuffed armadillo (a gift from his future step-father) in a large closet in the attic. Coming across the armadillo in the dark often elicits an ear piercing scream from Owen which would set John’s Grandmother’s nerves on edge. This armadillo will become a poignant symbol of their friendship
When Owen expresses a desire to meet John’s three cousins – Noah, Simon and Hester (the molester), John is understandably very concerned that these wild cousins would be too much , or even dangerous, for Owen. Plus, John is a bit worried about what his cousins would actually think of his best friend. But, kids are accepting and Owen is so forthcoming that friendships form very quickly.
I’m about a third of the way through this novel now, the childhood escapades have had me laughing out loud, and Owen’s opinions on every subject are just brilliant. What I love about Owen is the fact that he acknowledges his peculiarities and he tries to put others at ease about them. He’s also a very deep and understanding child and these are the abilities that John admires so much, and the reason for his religious beliefs, for Owen is the instrument of John’s mother’s death. Owen believes it is because he disturbed the angel of death one night in her room, and as God couldn’t have her then, he used Owen to take her later.
Narrated by the adult John Wheelwright, his reminisces are full of symbolism, poignancy and much love for Owen. I’ve only read a third of this novel but already I want to tell everyone that you HAVE TO READ THIS!!