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.
“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.
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.