April 24, 1989 12:00 PM

by John Irving

At his best—and aren’t we talking only Garp?—Irving has created characters whose eccentricities are surpassed only by the emotional truths they represent. At his worst, he puts lesbians in gorilla suits. Owen Meany is a gorilla-suit kind of book. It’s not enough that the title character is a doll-size New Hampshire native with “a voice from another planet”; he also thinks he’s Christ. It’s not enough that narrator Johnny Wheelwright is the product of a mysterious one-night stand—he also loses his mother to a foul ball hit by Owen’s Little League bat. It’s not enough that Owen TALKS IN CAPITAL LETTERS THROUGHOUT THE NOVEL—he often talks about DIVINE PROVIDENCE, AMERICAN IGNORANCE and WHAT WE DID WRONG IN VIETNAM. And it’s not enough that Irving subjects us to contrived, patronizing and irritating exercise—it takes him 543 pages to do it! No matter that Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy and a battalion of other literary luminaries are invoked. A prayer for John Irving, please: that he leave the grave-digging to Stephen King, the dismembering to the Monty Python Alumni Association and war’s haunting absurdity to Kurt Vonnegut. (Morrow, $19.95)

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