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In 1987, John writes, Hester has actually succeeded in becoming a rock star. Calling herself "Hester the Molester"--Noah and Simon's childhood nickname for her--she plays a kind of seamy hard rock that garners considerable airplay on music video channels. John thinks her videos are disgusting and stupid, but his students love her. He describes bringing the girls from the Bishop Strachan School to Hester's concerts; backstage, Hester always tells the girls that John is a virgin. The girls think she is joking, but she is not. John says that he is not a "non-practicing homosexual," but that what happened to him has simply neutered him.
In Hester's defense, John says that she was badly hurt and even damaged by Owen's death; she felt that Owen left her behind. John says that Owen has not exactly left him behind: as recently as last August, John had a visitation from Owen's spirit, the second such visitation he has had since Owen's death. Visiting Dan at 80 Front Street, where Dan lives now that Mrs. Wheelwright is dead, John nearly falls down the darkened stairs in the secret passage. He feels a tiny hand catch him, and hears Owen's voice telling him not to be afraid. When he emerges from the passage, Dan is shocked to see that the roots of John's hair have turned stark white.
John remembers his grandmother's death, only two weeks before her hundredth birthday: her increasing senility led Dan and John to place her in a retirement home, where she slipped regally away. She died watching television; Dan found her with her thumb on the remote control, so that the channel continued to change. John also remembers the summer of 1967, when he began his Master's thesis on Thomas Hardy; Owen gave him a great deal of advice about Hardy's fatalism and advised John to "JUST PLUNGE IN."
During John's most recent visit to 80 Front Street (he visits Dan each August), Dan asked John again to move back from Canada and return to Gravesend, saying that Owen has been dead for twenty years, and it is time for John to forgive and forget. But John says that he cannot forget, and deflects Dan's questioning by asking questions about the theater. Writing in September, 1987, John says that a new school year has begun at the Bishop Strachan School, but that he has been troubled by a new faculty member named Eleanor Pribst, who is a sexual bully with snobbish notions about literature.
John remembers that before Owen died, Hester vowed not to attend his funeral: she told him that she would marry him and follow him anywhere, but that she refused to attend his "fucking funeral" if he insisted on going to Vietnam. In 1967, John attends the March on the Pentagon with his cousin, but because of his amputated finger he feels utterly detached; there is no chance that he will be sent to Vietnam, and he suspects (as Owen does) that most of the protesters are simply afraid to be drafted.
John remembers the time just after Owen's death, in the summer of 1968. He goes to the Meany household to speak to Mr. Meany about the funeral arrangements--he wants Rev. Merrill to perform the service--and Mr. Meany takes him into Owen's room, where he is shocked to see that Owen has attached Mary Magdalene's arms to John's mother's dressmaker's dummy. John goes through Owen's things, but does not find the baseball that killed his mother. Mr. Meany--as Mrs. Meany angrily objects in the background--tells John that Owen was not natural; he was, Mr. Meany claims, a virgin birth. He says that he told Owen this fact when Owen was about eleven--at about the same time as John's mother died--and that the infamous "great insult" the Catholic Church has paid the Meanys is to disbelieve their claim. Mr. Meany also shows John Owen's tombstone, which he claims Owen made for himself six months before he died. It is exactly like the vision of Scrooge's tombstone Owen had while acting in A Christmas Carol--and the date inscribed on the tombstone is the actual date of Owen's death.
I think that Owen's being swaddled too tightly to move his arms in "The Little Lord Jesus" is another instance of the armlessness motif, especially considering the religious setting of the pageant.
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This story is too great a fabrication to take seriously. It borders on fantasy. Irving is a strange person with a very warped perspective of religion.
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Take a Study Break!