What a completely satisfying book. Big book, big story, big writing. Unfortunately I got the book from the library and read this long book from a much used paperback with tan ish paper. The type was a bit small and a bit dark. So the reading was hard work but completely worth it.
From the beginning we are told that Owen is a hero -- indeed, we are told that he is the reason the narrator believes in God. That's an awful lot of pressure to put on a little guy, and naturally we expect a lot from this character. Irving does not choose the most predictable route to martyrdom for his hero (for which he is to be commended), and he takes his time in building up a fine, big book around him. In the end he loads up a bit too much on those small shoulders, with too much hokey religion and fatalism, but it is an entertaining enough ride along the way.
The town and the times are well recreated, and the characters are an interesting bunch. All of Johnny's family, from the wild cousins to the stepfather and the grandmother, and Owen's subdued family too are good characters, and only rarely does Irving try to do too much with them. As usual, Irving is modernly Dickensian, with touches of humor, tragedy, humanity, and a great deal of the absurd in his characters and situations.
There are numerous clever -- and a few less clever -- episodes and anecdotes throughout the novel. Owen's speech, all CAPITALIZED, is not as irritating as we were led to believe -- indeed, only the religion and some of the politics were less than well-handled (but they are always notoriously difficult to get a grip on). It is, in part, a book about Viet Nam, and the American involvement there, acceptable only because Irving takes a relatively original approach to involving his characters in the war. It is also a story about religion and finding God, an idea so incomprehensible and absurd to us that we can not comment. Nevertheless, Irving manages to be less than completely off-putting in this regard, so there must be some plausibility to how he handles it.
The story has some fine twists and turns and is generally very well-related. We know the outcome, but Irving still keeps our attention as to exactly how things will turn out. We did find the ending somewhat anti-climactic, and some of the smaller devices were annoying (the predictable tombstone, etc.) and not everything works, but it is still a mighty fine drawn-out read.
Irving also wrote The World according to Garp and The Cider House Rules.
Laurie thanks for suggesting this book more than once. And Carol I think you would enjoy this one. I think it would make a good book club book.