I just tonight finished reading "A Prayer for Owen Meany" by John Irving. I'd never read Irving, and I've met a lot of people who love this book (including a guy who spotted me reading it on the subway and just gushed about it). I'm a bit less enthusiastic -- overly precious in parts, deterministic to a fault (maybe inevitable, since it's partly a study of determinism), and often overwritten. Irving has a way of coming up with functional -- if not always poetic -- metaphors, but then rendering them clutzy and pointless by explaining them. A good metaphor doesn't need explication.
Still, I was mostly interested enough to read it all the way through, which is saying something given its girth. And in the closing pages (just before the convoluted and telegraphed deus ex machina ending), there's this brief passage where Owen Meany is watching a TV preacher and goes into a little political rant. Just the day before, he's met a 15-year-old boy obsessed with killing who can't wait to go to Vietnam. The scene is set in 1968, the novel was published in 1989, and it was a little...uncomfortable to be reading it in November 2004 (in the book, all of Owen's words are in capital letters, but it drove me nuts -- it was supposed too, I guess -- so I'll spare you that):
What's wrong with this country? There is such a stupid 'get even' mentality -- there is such a sadistic anger. Is this country just so huge that it needs to oversimplify everything? Look at the war: either we have a strategy to 'win it,' which makes us -- in the world's view -- murderers; or else we are dying, without fighting to win. Look at what we call 'foreign policy'; our 'foreign policy' is a euphemism for public relations, and our public relations get worse and worse. We're being defeated and we're not good losers.
And look at what we call 'religion': Turn on any television on any Sunday morning! See the choirs of the poor and uneducated, and these terrible preachers selling old Jesus-stories like junk food. Soon there'll be an evangelist in the White House; soon there'll be a Cardinal on the Supreme Court. ...
That is where this country is headed. It is headed toward oversimplification. You want to see a president of the future? Turn on any television on any Sunday morning -- find one of those holy rollers: That's him, that's the new Mister President! And do you want to see the future of all those kids who are going to fall in the cracks of this great, big, sloppy society of ours? I just met him; he's a tall, scary, fifteen-year-old boy named Dick. He's pretty scary. What's wrong with him is not unlike what's wrong with the TV evangelist -- our future president. What's wrong with both of them is that they're so sure they're right! That's pretty scary -- the future, I think, is pretty scary.