There are some memories that return to you again and again throughout your whole life. Here are a few of mine.
I remember being told in class assembly – by a teacher whose name I’ve forgotten – that she had seen pictures of the Jewish Holocaust when she was about my age and she still had a reoccurring nightmare about the tiny corpses of people who had starved to death on cold camps in mid winter.
I remember the last day of Year Six, lying on the field next to Joanne, my best friend, and thinking “When I leave today I will never have another lesson here.” We put our navy jumpers on the ground so our hair wouldn’t get full of grass. I remember closing my eyes and facing the sun, then staring at the ground so everything around me looked like it was washed with pale blue.
I remember Nick Miller saying he would never go out with me because I was too ugly.
I remember sitting at the Jehovah’s Witnesses hall on a Sunday and writing down the scriptures in a notebook, copying them out from my little maroon Bible, which had a pony sticker on the front of it.
I remember sitting behind the sofa with sad music playing on my Dad’s hi-fi, and realising that first my grandparents would die, then it would be my aunty, then probably dad, then my mum and then the next one to go would be me.
I remember walking back from Fay’s, as a young teenager, and watching the sparrows wash themselves by rubbing their feathers against the sand that had collected at the side of the road.
All these weird little snippets of memory surface from time to time. They don’t seem to need any provocation, they just rise quietly out of the past like bubbles.
Reading an Irving novel creates so many of these little bubbles that a week after you have read one of his stories your mind is still popping with all the weird little instances he describes, the odd histories, the strange eccentricities of his characters. An armadillo with no claws, the missing baseball, fate and what it means to be a part of society, granite grey, guilt, the red dress…these are a handful of the things you find popping up again and again in Irving’s novel.
A Prayer for Owen Meany is about a boy that is small and has a voice that is very high pitched. He kills John the narrator’s mother and then leads him to believe in God. Events in the book are foreshadowed and remembered and play out backwards and forwards as the lives of Owen and John progress.
The pair grow up in America during the Vietnam War, which lasted from 1959 – 1975. John, who writes about his past with Owen, is haunted by the news and reporting of the time – what America as a nation was doing and how this affected those around him. The novel, like his earlier story The World According to Garp, is a long, but pacey, first person coming of age narrative which suggests that everyone believes in something and, even if it’s not God, even if it’s just the stories we tell ourselves to get us out of bed, it’s a powerful force. ‘Faith and prayer work,’ says Owen Meany, ‘ they really do.’