My Antonia, penned by Willa Cather is a story capturing the life of turn-of-the-century America. The Nebraska prairie's newly arrived inhabitants - wh...moreMy Antonia, penned by Willa Cather is a story capturing the life of turn-of-the-century America. The Nebraska prairie's newly arrived inhabitants - who come from varied places bring their dreams, ambitions and culture - go about settling in that harsh, beautiful environment.
Antonia is such a powerful character. I believe the Yiddish term for someone such as her is 'mensch,' - someone who is fundamentally decent and rock solid in her character. And yet, there are other people whose personalities are equally engaging (I'm thinking about Lena in particular). Reading about their lives, evoked reminiscences about my own constellation and the cast of characters who were so significant to me when I was growing up.
Cather's vignettes of the various families and their contributions to who Jim became are powerful examples about how much our lives are affected by our environment and the people around us. More than that, It is a story about how people interact with one another; how they cope with difficulty and the vicissitudes of life. The exploration of actions and attendant consequences is compelling and, where is a melancholy undertone to the entire story, it is not at all maudlin.
It is an homage to the Human spirit. I have been careful not to give anything away here but I do want to mention that ultimately, this is a story about abiding love and relationships.
Perhaps it is the subject matter but this book just didn't move me the way Pride & Prejudice did. Sentence structure is difficult to follow at tim...morePerhaps it is the subject matter but this book just didn't move me the way Pride & Prejudice did. Sentence structure is difficult to follow at times.
She tends to draw out her explanations and descriptions, quite often, with exquisite detail and that can make the reading feel heavy and controlling at times (sort of like this sentence).
Once she has led her reader through a particular thought process, there is no room but to accept her description. She leaves little room for her reader to come to any other conclusions other than her own.
None the less, the fine details she offers regarding how people of her time thought and behaved is her enduring legacy.
I've always had a tentative relationship with my religion. Like many, I take comfort in established, ritualized practices. On the other hand, I have a...moreI've always had a tentative relationship with my religion. Like many, I take comfort in established, ritualized practices. On the other hand, I have a tough time with some of what I consider to be loopy mandates outlined by the Catholic Catechism.
One aspect about, A Prayer for Owen Meany definitely touched on Faith; how I reconcile the difference between knowing that G_d exists; and believing that his word is what has been faithfully communicated through the Bible.
Couple that with my mistrust for 'the government' and my love for the Constitution and I have the perfect setting for an exploration of what happens when the two mix.
Owen Meany is a Christ-like figure - the reluctant messiah who, for whatever reason - is tapped to make the supreme sacrifice; he is to die. It causes me to ponder how Jesus must have felt as he knew what was going to happen and how he dealt with that impending eventuality of his demise for a 'greater good.'
And what of altruism? How can one reconcile voluntary termination of one's very life when to do so involves an act so selfless that it means termination of life as we know it to exist in this dimension. It begs the question, is altruism really voluntary at all and moreover, does it make any sense?
What about those left behind? John Wheelright's retrospective recounts the life of his enigmatic friend and the events that precipitated his death. He is preoccupied with whether the senseless act of violence that killed Owen could have been avoided - whether the collision course was one of divine providence or merely the product of a self-directed destiny. In the process, John's story reveals the struggle between faith and reality; for John it was one of knowing the end result and looking back; for Owen, it was one of knowing the end result and moving toward it. While both took a lifetime to complete, I am not sure who suffered more in the end.
If this is a parallel story of Jesus of Nazareth and there are/were other people with whom he shared his earthly existence then, their spin on the chain of events that led to his death and how they perceived it opens a whole new story. I can easily surmise that their personal interpretations might vary and the depth of their grief drives them to revisit the 'greatest story ever told' for the rest of their lives.
There are also many symbolic parallels throughout the story as well. For instance, Owen Meany's initials might be related to the letter Omega - as in the Christ's declaration of being the 'alpha and the omega.' His relationship to 'John' - might this be a reference to the beloved apostle alluded to in the New Testament? How about the Mary Magdalene, perhaps an alliterative parallel to Hester - 'the Molester'; maybe an allusion to the Scarlet Letter's Hester Prynne and the attendant consequences for having dared to love a man she could never have. How about her ability to evoke emotion and enjoy adulation of her fans. Yet despite her rock-star appeal, she was powerless to save the man she loved from with his date with destiny?
So many other questions arise like;
1] Is it easier to bitch about my government when I really have problems with my G_d? Civil disobedience beats the shit out of apostasy right? My government can jail me however, according to Pascal's gambit regarding the existence of G_d; violating the treatises of my faith can doom me for eternity.
2] Is this why fundamentalists work so hard at setting a status quo in their ever-changing world?
3] What do you do when your messiah - whom you never realized to be your messiah - is now your messiah and he is gone? You no longer can see him in the flesh. Is this the point of embarkation for the trip we call 'faith'?
4] How about the irony involved in being killed by someone else whose practiced religion calls for your destruction - even if you are the messiah?
I think about mistrust of my government which also played a role in Owen's death, the zealots and the existence of evil.
Like John Wheelright, I am a religious outsider. The struggle with my faith, striving to make sense of the religion of my birth. I take in my countryman's sacrosanct professions of faith and come away unconvinced.
Among my fellow Christian believers, there is a sea of difference where one set of perspectives takes precedence over another. Those who currently hold sway doggedly embrace the notion of a vengeful G_d that endorses 'an eye for an eye.' By convention, these practitioners of faith invoke the notion of self reliance as their excuse for turning a blind eye to the plight of a poor. Since G_d only helps those who help themselves, poverty must be an indication that such individuals are sinners - abandoned by the creator and therefore - of no consequence. The G_d of Abraham - whose eye is on the sparrow - is unmoved at the growling stomach of starving child.
Only in America do we protect an impoverished unborn human's right to be born into a mean world where they are guaranteed denial of equal access to education, food and a decent quality of life. We abandon them to the mean streets of what so proudly we hail as the greatest country on earth only to hunt them down years later. They are perfect fodder for the alter of object lessons because we prosecute them and even execute them in far greater numbers than members of the middle and upper class. We conveniently deny along the way that offenses committed by the poor had anything to do with the crimes perpetrated by religious approbation of avarice, wholesale exclusion and pin-pointed bigotry. It does make me wonder just what a messiah might make of it all and that is another reason why Owen Meany's character moves me.
I freely admit my bias; I am a John Irving fan and this is the book that did it for me.
I know Irving thoroughly studied the work of Charles Dickens so his story-telling utilizes techniques invoking craftsmanship reminiscent of that prolific storyteller. Irving's writing skill is second to none. He delivers a thought provoking, haunting narrative that leaves me continually revisiting this story.
A Prayer for Owen Meany is a meaning-of-life book of the highest order. It doesn't give us answers. It gives us questions to ponder - something infinitely more valuable. It informs. It frustrates. It entertains. It evokes a broad range of emotions. It has the potential for commuting what seems at first blush a life so common into a glimpse of the divine. It is the story of one man's epiphany and his ongoing struggle to reconcile faith with reality. It is a book of revelation - all at once apocalyptic and painfully redemptive.
Any book that can communicate on so many different levels is a book that will stand the test of time. This is why I consider this story among the top three books penned by any living writer I have read to date.
This is only part of why I love Owen Meany and why, - like the opening line,
"I am doomed to remember a small boy with a wrecked voice..."(less)
"...one flew east, one flew west, and one flew over the cuckoo's nest."
I first read, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest” when I was fourteen. I remember c...more"...one flew east, one flew west, and one flew over the cuckoo's nest."
I first read, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest” when I was fourteen. I remember checking it out at the library and my only reason for picking it out was because I liked the name. The following year, Jack Nicholson starred as Randall Patrick McMurphy, the convict who decided to have himself placed in a psychiatric hospital in lieu of finishing out his prison sentence in a work camp. While no book can ever be matched by a movie, and Hollywood's rendition was not all that bad, it never came close to what Ken Kesey was able to accomplish with his prose.
McMurphy’s fateful decision to take on the ward tyrant Nurse Ratched - a twisted woman whose sinister control was unchallenged untl Randall McMurphy came along. McMurphy's arrival exposed Nurse Ratched's manipulative nature and her undermining the patients ability to improve their situation. This placed McMurphy and Ratched on a collision course.
At first blush, McMurphy appeared on the surface to be self-centered. However, he was soon forced to decide whether to secure his personal interests or sacrifice them for the greater good of his fellow inpatients.
Kesey had a powerful influence on my love for books and, while I typically never re-read a book, I decided to give this book another go after finishing Wallace Stegner's, “On Writing and Teaching Fiction.” Stegner is credited with having been a major influence on Ken Kesey who was a student of his at Stanford University where Kesey started his manuscript of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's nest.
In the thirty five years that have passed since I first read Cuckoo's nest, I am amazed at how much richer the story has become. At fourteen years old, I was particularly impressed by McMurphy's brash, devil-be-damned nature.
This time around, I was more affected by McMurphy's decision to take a stand. Because of that, the book was particularly disturbing. I suppose because with three and half of more decades of living under my belt, age has afforded me more opportunities to witness Man’s inhumanity to Man.
That said, I have seen far less McMurphy’s in my lifetime than I have seen people of the Nurse Ratched variety. McMurphys definitely seem to be waning in number. I have always had an abiding respect for the McMurphys of the world - more so now that I am older. They are becoming rarer by the day while the Ratched mentality seem to be ever on the rise. I may not like the Ratcheds of the world but I certainly do understand them.
This book continues to be on my short list of books to read if I was forced to be marooned on an abandoned island. I appreciate Kesey because of his ability to point out the intrinsic value of all Human Beings and moreover, his literary admonition that we ought never dismiss people on the basis of our pre-determined, prescriptive notions that tend to be overly dismissive simply because we are obsessed with status and social standing.
It reminds me of Mohadnas K. Ghandi’s observation that, “All humanity is one undivided and indivisible family, and each one of us is responsible for the misdeeds of all the others. I cannot detach myself from the wickedest soul."
The sooner we all realize we are all in it together – it meaning life – the less we will be inclined to diminish one another and basing such dismissal on arbitrary criteria that serve whatever personal or group interest to our own end.(less)