Wednesday, July 09, 2008

What I read: "A Prayer for Owen Meany" by John Irving

Owen Meany is strange. And my experience reading about him was strange. At one point the narrator talks about a class reading stories by Alice Munro. During my last trip to the library I checked out "A Prayer for Owen Meany" and a book of short stories called "Runaway" by Alice Munro. I thought that was a small strange coincidence. "A Prayer For Owen Meany" culminates in a flashback to July 8, 1968. I just happened to finish reading the book on July 8, 2008.

I know those are just coincidences, but what makes it strange is that the book itself is about coincidences and miracles. Irving creates his typical quirky characters and makes us care about them. "A Prayer for Owen Meany" tells a tale of love, friendship and courage. Owen, who never grows to more than 5 feet tall and retains a child's voice throughout his life, teaches others how to overcome adversity despite his own problems.

The book is funny and touching and at times profound. Some may find the characters over the top (it's what Irving does -- see "The World According to Garp"). But that's what I like about it. The characters are eccentric or flamboyant or boisterous or evil in their way. You love them or hate them, but you care about them and what happens to them next.

There's even a bit of a history lesson in the novel, as we learn how many American troops were in Vietnam on a given New Year's Eve and how many had died. The book also gives us some history of the Iran-Contra scandal. It's interesting to compare those times to what's happening in our world today.

In his introduction to the 2002 edition of the novel, Irving says, "I may one day write a better first sentence to a novel than that of 'A Prayer for Owen Meany,' but I doubt it."

It's a long sentence and it opens the book with a bang:
"I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice -- not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother's death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany."

The book hasn't converted me or made me believe in miracles -- I'm too much of a skeptic -- but it was a strange experience. And I, too, am "doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice."

Monday, July 07, 2008

What I watched: Happy Accidents

First, I have to confess an irrational attraction to Vincent D'Onofrio. It isn't that I find him especially good looking -- at least not in any kind of conventional way. But when I see him on television, I can't take my eyes off him. Even on recent episodes of Law & Order: Criminal Intent, where D'Onofrio is looking a little bloated and worn, I still can't help watching. When he's not on that program -- when they have a Chris Noth storyline instead -- I don't watch. I don't care. Of course, there's something especially intriguing about D'Onofrio's Detective Robert Goran. The character is fun to watch. He's a little nuts, and I love that.

Which leads to my recent viewing of Happy Accidents. This movie is an eight-year-old independent film starring D'Onofrio and Marisa Tomei (who I also find intriguing and beautiful). Sam (D'Onofrio) and Ruby (Tomei) meet at the park and begin a whirlwind romance. Everything seems perfect until Sam starts displaying some strange quirks. He's especially afraid of small dogs. Why? They don't have them where he comes from. Which is where? Dubuque. Iowa. Except it turns out Sam doesn't mean "our" Dubuque. Sam believes he is from Dubuque in the year 2470. Ruby thinks Sam is just another in a long line of losers she's dated and tried to fix. But there's something about Sam that keeps her hanging in there.

This is a sweet little movie with some twists to it, including a pre-Dead Zone cameo from Anthony Michael Hall -- they refer to him as "that geeky kid" from Sixteen Candles. It's a perfect movie for a rainy afternoon. It's worth watching, if for nothing other than getting to look at D'Onofrio and Tomei for an hour and 50 minutes.