When people discuss John Irving's writings, the discussion almost always gets around to what they consider to be Irving's best work. Titles like "The Hotel New Hampshire", "The World According to Garp" and "The Cider House Rules" are often mentioned. My preference among all of them is "A Prayer For Owen Meany."
Why? While I have read many of Irving's other books, I find "Meany" to be the best at combining all of the human emotions into one book in a wonderfully told tale.
The book is narrated by John Wheelwright, a life-long friend of Owen Meany, and is told from Wheelwrght's point of view.
Meany, from the beginning, is shown to be special. He's permanently stunted in his growth, very pale and speaks in a high nasal voice. To display how different Meany's voice sounds from other people, Irving has him speak in all capital letters. I found it a bit disconcerting at first, but got used to it eventually.
The novel starts with both Meany and Wheelwright in their childhood years. Wheelwright's mother clearly adores Meany, and Meany returns the feeling. Meany's parents are the opposite of Meany: dull, drab people who run a granite quarry. Given the mutual affection, the tragedy that happens at one of Wheelwright's Little League games is all the more cruelly ironic.
As Irving contines, a series of seeming unrelated events, through Wheelwright and Meany's high-school, college and Vietnam years, all coalesce into one main climax at the end of the novel that affirms Meany's belief that he is an instrument to be used in a destiny that is beyond his understanding. All of this is truly well weaved by Irving.
A movie loosely based on the novel was made, under the name "Simon Birch", but the screenwriters changed so much of the book, such as making Meany hearing-impaired, that Irving got incensed and demanded that his name be taken off of the movie.
Out of a stubborn sense of loyalty, and also a fear of what scriptwriters might have done to chop such a long book into a two-hour movie, I did not see "Simon Birch." From what reviews I read of the movie, it looks like I made the correct choice.
I found myself alternating between feeling immense sorrow and laughing like a maniac while reading this.
While Irving is guilty at times of writing purple prose (the book is nearly 700 pages long), I found myself reading each page slowly. This is very atypical of me, as I am a speed-reader and am capable of reading and retaining things quickly, but this time I found myself savoring the language and Irving's writing ability, actually feeling a sense of disappointment when the book ended.