September 18, 2007 archive

A Prayer for Owen Meany – Book Review

I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice – not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany. -From A Prayer for Owen Meany, page 1-

John Irving has crafted a masterpiece in this novel about a boy small in stature, but large in spirit. It is perhaps his most memorable character yet. I admit to loving all of John Irving’s work. Up until now, Hotel New Hampshire and The World According to Garp ran neck and neck for my favorite Irving novel. But, after reading A Prayer for Owen Meany, this novel has now climbed to the top of the rankings. I loved this book for its depth, and humor, its exploration about the loss of childhood, and ultimately its statement about faith and the belief that nothing happens without a reason.

Irving once again shines in the development of character and pitch perfect dialogue, interwoven with humor that is both subtle and laugh out loud funny.

Taking a seat in my grandmother’s living room was never easy, because many of the available seats were not for sitting in – they were antiques, which my grandmother was preserving, for historical reasons; sitting in them was not good for them. Therefore, although the living room was quite sumptuously arranged with upholstered chairs and couches, very little of this furniture was usable – and so a guest, his or her knees already bending in the act of sitting down, would suddenly snap to attention as my grandmother shouted, “Oh for goodness sake, not thre! You can’t sit there!” And the startled person would attempt to try the next chair or couch, which in my grandmother’s opinion would also collapse or burst into flames at the strain. -From A Prayer for Owen Meany, page 51-


What I remember of skiing with my cousins is long, humiliating, and hurtling alls, followed by my cousins retrieving my ski poles, my mittens, and my hat – from which I became inevitably separated.
“Are you all right?” my eldest cousin, Noah, would ask me. “That looked rather harsh.”
“That looked neat!” my cousin Simon would say; Simon loved to fall – he skied to crash.
“You keep doing that, you’ll make yourself sterile,” said my cousin Hester, to whom every event of our shared childhood was either sexually exhilarating or sexually damaging. -From A Prayer for Owen Meany, page 57-


Narrated by Johnny Wheelwright, a childhood friend of Owen Meany, the story alternates between boyhood memories set in New Hampshire (with little Owen Meany being the centerpiece of those memories) and an adult’s reflections in Toronto. Irving makes strong statements about the Vietnam War, the Iran-Contra debacle, and religion – all reasons why A Prayer for Owen Meany has been banned and censored many times.

Pastor Merrill made religion seem reasonable. And the trick of having faith, he said, was that it was necessary to believe in God without any great or even remotely reassuring evidence that we don’t inhabit a godless universe.  Although he knew all the best – or, at least, the least boring – stories in the Bible, Mr. Merrill was most appealing because he reassured us that doubt was the essence of faith, and not faith’s opposite. -From A Prayer for Owen Meany, page 107-

And in our Scripture class, Owen said, “IT’S TRUE THAT THE DISCIPLES ARE STUPID – THEY NEVER UNDERSTAND WHAT JESUS MEANS, THEY’RE A BUNCH OF BUNGLERS, THEY DON’T BELIEVE IN GOD AS MUCH AS THEY WANT TO BELIEVE, AND THEY EVEN BETRAY JESUS. THE POINT IS, GOD DOESN’T LOVE US BECAUSE WE’RE SMART OR BECAUSE WE’RE GOOD. WE’RE STUPID AND WE’RE BAD AND GOD LOVES US ANYWAY – JESUS ALREADY TOLD THE DUMB-SHIT DISCIPLES WHAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN. ‘THE SON OF MAN WILL BE DELIVERED INTO THE HANDS OF MEN, AND THEY WILL KILL HIM…’ REMEMBER? -From A Prayer for Owen Meany, page 277-278-


This novel is large in scope – and seems initially to be made up of isolated memories of childhood. Irving, however, never does anything “by accident,” and the fragments of Johnny Wheelwright’s childhood come together in the end wrapped together in meaning. The message being, of course, that nothing happens by coincidence, and everything in our lives has meaning.

Irving’s novel hits hard. I found myself dreading the ending – which is suggested throughout the novel, but which nevertheless surprises and stuns the reader.

Read this book. You will laugh, and cry and be compelled to look deeper into the meaning of life. Irving does not disappoint.

Highly Recommended.

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