Books: The Message Is the Message

A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY by John Irving; Morrow; 543 pages; $19.95

Accidents usually accelerate John Irving's antic plots and keep his readers tuned for what happens next. A Prayer for Owen Meany takes a somewhat different approach. Framed by the myth of victim as redeemer, the book removes guesswork without reducing expectations. One knows going in that the mischievous author is staging a kind of "Gospel According to Charlie Brown." But anyone familiar with Irving's mastery of narrative technique, his dark humor and moral resolve also knows his fiction is cute like a fox.

Irving's inventive stamina and virtuosity scarcely...

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