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The existence of fate in a prayer for owen meany by john irving

So it is important to look at the failure of ''Owen Meany'' carefully. Does it represent the way of the world, or did Irving bring this on himself? The book works itself back and forth across a period of 34 years, tracing the friendship of two boys from the fictional New Hampshire town of Gravesend. The narrator, John Wheelwright, is well-bred but illegitimate.

The existence of fate in a prayer for owen meany by john irving

Son of the owner of a hardscrabble granite quarry and his lunatic wife, both of whom are scarred by a secret ''unspeakable outrage'' that is connected with the Catholic Church, Owen is inexplicably tiny and strange looking, like ''an embryonic fox. The book begins in the summer of 1953 when, as 11-year-olds, John and Owen suffer a mutual tragedy. In spite of this, the two boys remain friends and in some ways are brought even closer together.

He is also an earnest Anglican, a sincere claimant to a faith in God. The book has some of the elements that made ''The World According to Garp'' so attractive to the critics and the bestseller audience alike: But ''Garp'' was brilliant because it achieved a harmony of its parts.

The characters were odd, but their oddness seemed self-generated, since they were always in motion, always revealing themselves in dramatized scenes.

WILLED VISIONS

The crazy twists of the plot were similarly made convincing by their very momentum and by the naturalness of the characters, strange though they were. Characters and action existed in a happy symbiosis. However, in ''Owen Meany,'' Irving seems to have forgotten how to structure a story. Instead of developing scenes that lead to and build on each other, Irving constantly impedes his tale by focusing on details that fail to contribute to the gathering fullness a reader must feel in the presence of careful storytelling.

The existence of fate in a prayer for owen meany by john irving

Time and time again, he stops to introduce or discuss characters in long set pieces-invoking oddity after oddity in creatures that we never sufficiently see in action.

Irving himself seems to sense that his story keeps faltering. No fewer than two dozen times, he uses one of the hoariest and, at that frequency, one of the most amateurish of plot devices: In the first chapter, Irving has John end a section with this: I am doomed to remember this. But we only feel manipulated.

This is the worst possible climate for a book that deals with the themes of fate and faith; for fate, in ''Owen Meany,'' is only what John Irving has willed it to be.

At least this much is encouraging when we consider how Irving has gone wrong: He has ignored what the broad reading audience rightly should lead our artists to respect: Irving was once a splendid storyteller. I can only offer the prayerful last sentence of this novel for its author: I shall keep asking You.