In the summer of 1953, two 11-year-old boys--best friends--are playing in a Little League baseball game in New Hampshire. One of the boys hits a foul ball that kills his best friend's mother. Owen Meany believes he didn't hit the ball by accident. He believes he is God's instrument. What happens to Owen after 1953 is extraordinary and terrifying. He is Irving's most heartbreaking hero.
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
It has all the hallmarks of an Irving novel that I like - fantastically original, smart characterisation and some great witty prose. Unfortunately it has all the ones I hate too - first and foremost a tendency to get snagged up on some issue he clearly thinks is fascinating/hilarious/profound and then bang on about it for fifty or so pages ad nauseam. For example....the pageant was quite funny but went on way too long, as were all those bits about Hester in the future, and the religious bits in Canada.
This book is a bit like climbing a tree - hard work, rather monotonous at times and you might occasionally get poked in the eye, but it's worth the slog because the view from the top is tremendous.
Owen is a small, underdeveloped boy with “wrecked voice” and weirdly luminous skin. He is very fond of John’s mother who adores Owen. She even convinces his parents to let him attend the elite Gravesend’s Academy. John, who lives with his mom and grandmother, doesn’t know who his father is, but hopes that one day his mom will tell him. All his hopes are shattered one day when Owen kills her accidently with a baseball. However John and Owen still remain close friends even after this tragic event. Owen believes that everything in life happens for a reason and that his faith in God will help John to find his father.
After John’s mom died, Owen wins the role of baby Jesus and the Christmas ghost in a Christmas play at the amateur theater. Owen shocks everyone in the middle of one of the performances, when he sees his parents in the audience; he demands that they leave… He was very good as a scary Christmas ghost in A Christmas Carol, but on the final night of the performance he sees a vision; a vision of his own gravestone with the date of his death. He is convinced that the vision will become true. As Time passes he sees other visions which give more and more details of his own death. Owen starts to believe that he is an instrument of God.
When the boys were old enough they begin attending Gravesend’s Academy. Owen was an odd boy who was physically fragile, but reading the book you can see how strong he was mentally. You can easily imagine that Owen would be the boy that everybody makes fun of, but instead you find he was somewhat of an authority for all the other boys at the school. He had a column, called “The Voice”, in the school’s paper, but shortly before graduating he was expelled for helping students making fake IDs out of their draft cards.
This was a weird story, funny and sad; extremely vividly written. John Irving is a master of words. This novel is his most autobiographical. He, like John in the book, lived in New Hampshire, didn’t know his real father and even his stepfather was a professor at the University. This was my first book from Irving’s works and it’s still my favorite. The author is such a talented story teller that in one page he makes you laugh and in the next page he can make you cry. This was an amazing book, I know it’s a favorite of many people; you can’t go wrong by choosing this novel. This is a thick book (over 600 pages), but it’s fast, easy and very enjoyable an unforgettable read. This is one of those books that you don’t want to end.
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.
A brilliant opening sentence of A Prayer for Owen Meany that encapsulate the essence of the story and immediately grabs our attention.
This is a story of a beautiful and lasting friendship - about growing up in the 50's and 60's in a small fictional town in New Hampshire. About the loss of childhood - a tragic death - and more than anything about faith and God's providence - that nothing happens without a reason.
Owen Meany is one of the most fascinating characters I've met in a long time in fiction - an unlikely angel or savior, a dwarf-like-prophet with a wrecked voice who weighs almost nothing. Definitely something transcendent about his place in this story - when he speaks it's always in CAPITAL LETTERS which of course grabs our attention - like a prophets voice. At one point he's called THE VOICE due to his column-writing in the school-paper.
The narrator John is Owens best friend - and the story alternates between events in the present (1980's) and his memories of childhood. We meet Johns mother, her new fiancé Dan (a man with such a tender wisdom), the strict grandmother (with a weakness for tv-watching) and Hester - John's beautiful seductively cousin - and a lot of other persons (this is a 700 plus pages brick).
This is my first Irving - so I can't compare it to his other writings - Irvings world is quirky - so many memories weave into each other effortlessly - many strange, absurd and funny incident's and clever observations. But for some reason I wasn't deeply moved by the story - hence the four stars and not five.
JI serves up "quirky" people (a dwarf with a 'wrecked voice', in this case) and clumsy symbols (dressmakers dummy, baseball), as though these will hint at and shed light on the mysterious nature of Life and people. Instead, his books seem (to me) to be laughing at people, not with them (as RD does). Bizarreness is offered up for its own sake, without any purpose. I found it hard to believe that an 11-year-old boy would 1) remember all these details and 2) think those thoughts, say those things, at that age. The narrator (Owen's friend, now grown up and looking back) simply tells us several times that Owen "commanded respect" , that he held power over people. I didn't buy it, because I didn't see it. And I never could imagine what Owen's voice sounded like. A gravelly falsetto? This book was written before the Internet, where, if you write IN ALL CAPS, people accuse you of shouting. Perhaps that convention (seeing CAPS as yelling) makes it impossible for me to not hear him simply shouting constantly.
Owen Meany's structure is very simple, just a group of set-pieces (ready-made for filming) strung together. They weren't in the least funny. The bumbling fools and inept ministers are not humorous to me, merely sad. If I had to live in JI's world, I would be quite depressed.
Anyway, it seems this book was an attempt by JI to prove to himself (and RD) that he was a good writer, too! Look! I can do what you can do, Rob!
As they say in the comments on the web: "Um...no."
My feelings for Owen are as conflicted as Johnny Wheelwright's are. Owen is at times so manipulative, so condescending, so righteous and so devout, I had issues with almost everything he said and did. I cannot understand why people listened to him, never questioned him and followed him blindly. Present-day John Wheelwright reflects on past events with equal parts bitterness and fond remembrance, making it difficult for a reader to discern John's own feelings for Owen. Is it true love, as his current employer and her husband thinks? Is it completely platonic? The love/hate dynamic that exists within John regarding Owen gives the reader permission to feel similarly. It is an allowance on the part of the author like no other.
As with any novel of this length, there are many feints and sleights of hand, making it nearly impossible for the reader to predict, let alone follow at times. Mr. Irving did an excellent job starting out with one story, uncovering bits and pieces of it, only to uncover the whole truth rather dramatically at the end and forcing the reader to realize just how wrong he or she was. Not only does it make the story that much more enjoyable, it makes certain scenes in the story quite horrific because one does not see it coming until much too late.
Like most people who aspire to write a Dickensian novel, including Mr. Dickens himself, A Prayer for Owen Meany suffers from a tendency towards wordiness and rambling over inane topics. When the story was on track, it was concise, intriguing, and intelligently written. Unfortunately, many times throughout the novel, the narrator veered off onto various tangents, making it quite easy to tune out while listening to this as an audio book. However, like Dickens' works, tuning out proved to be quite dangerous because even the most innocuous comment on the most random tangent became a clue to final mystery of Owen's fate.
As hinted at in the title, A Prayer for Owen Meany revolves around the idea of faith. Many of the characters either question theirs, have lost theirs, or have no doubts about theirs. As a reader, it is not a novel to be read searching for answers. In fact, I feel that because my own feelings about religion and faith are so confused, I could not adequately appreciate this key theme. As religion is mentioned on practically every page, this is a huge omission on my part and directly impacted my reaction to certain scenes.
On audio, one can get a true sense of Owen's unique voice. Joe Barrett does this to perfection, employing a high-pitched, nasal tonality that truly does grate on the nerves. The impact of "that voice" from "that boy" takes on an entirely new meaning because the listener understands completely what a character may be experiencing when faced with Owen and his voice for the first time. As for the rest of the audio performance, Mr. Barrett excels. His voice is conversationalist in tone, pleasant and soothing to one's ear, except for when voicing Owen's lines. His characterization of each of the characters is subtle yet distinct, making it easy for the listener to distinguish between Grandmother and Hester, Aunt Martha and John's mother, Dan Needham versus Reverend Louis Merrill, and so forth. His enunciation is crisp and clear, and his adoption of a faint New England accent adds to the overall experience.
In spite of, or even maybe because of, my feelings for Owen, A Prayer for Owen Meany is a fascinating book. The story itself is engaging and quite interesting. There are enough teasers and hints as to Owen's fate, that the reader is compelled to continue with the story to confirm all suspicions or suggestions. The characters themselves are all quite memorable. Cousin Hester and Grandmother remain two of my favorites, Hester as the tortured soul and Grandmother as a revered matriarch of an entire town. While I may not agree entirely with the final message regarding miracles and spiritual belief, I can respect what Mr. Irving was trying to accomplish, for no matter what one's beliefs are about faith, A Prayer for Owen Meany forces the reader to reevaluate those beliefs. Well-written and perfectly executed, it will keep one pondering the idea of faith for a long time.
While "The World According to Garp" and "The Cider House Rules" appear to be Irving’s more popular works (or at least the ones that have inspired larger cult followings), this is arguably his most personal and profound book. Despite the persistent allegories—both obvious and subtle—there are no easy answers to the novel’s central religious and moral questions.
Is Owen truly a miracle and an 'instrument of God' or just someone elevated to messianic status by people around him who are desperate to believe in something? I am still not sure, but he is easily one of the most charismatic, hilarious, and altogether memorable fictional characters I have encountered.
The narrator is John/Johnny, best friend to a dwarf called Owen Meany. This book spanned a good 40+ years, from the time the characters were 8 years old until the surviving one was well into his 50s. The characters were so richly developed and so funny! I will really miss them. In fact, I made a point of reading this 600+ page book as slowly as I could.
I'd read a ton of reviews from people that claimed they hated this more than any other book they were forced to read in school. I can usually understand where former students are coming from when they say things like that, because I basically hated every book I was ever assigned in school (except The Catcher in the Rye, which I later grew to hate, so I'm not sure if that really counts).
But this book! Was so funny! There's this whole chapter on a Christmas Pageant that goes really horribly astray that I could not stop laughing at.
It also had a fair dose of anti-Republican / anti-Vietnam propaganda. Being sympathetic to both of those viewpoints, I can't say that the political shift was a disadvantage, though it did at times seem to take me out of the story for no real reason.
I have never read anything by Irving before but I'm excited to see what else he has for me.
Did I mention that I love this book?!
Owen is a character and a half, despite his small size and fragile appearance, an appearance that makes most girls and women want to hug him and mother him, he has a commanding presence, he is not one to be ignored. Neither is he someone easily dissuaded from his chosen course, in fact if Owen has it in mind to do something, nothing will get in his way. Above all he believes his life has a purpose, and he means to fulfil that purpose. Throughout he has the unerring support of John, even though John might not understand all that is happening, or necessarily agree with his friend.
A Prayer for Owen Meany is a beautiful story very well told. It is carefully crafted, and in addition to the gradual unravelling of Owen's purpose, there are several other themes running throughout the story. It is in part this gradual revealing of matters that holds one's interest, often we will know a particular outcome of events very early in the story, but what lead up to or caused that outcome, we may not know for some time, in some cases not until the end. We won't realise either that some seemingly irrelevant actions will prove crucial to the outcome.
While that makes for a fascinating read, above all it is the Owen's character, and the unquestioning friendship between Owen and John that makes this a very special story. John narrates that account from the 1980s, and while updating us on what is happening in his life then he spends most time looking back to the 1950s and 60s when they grew up, and he frequently puts the action into context by reminding us of significant news events of the period with which many of us will be familiar. He does also speak his mind occasionally about the attitude of Americans and America's involvement in international affairs, and at times indulges his interest in literature. He also has something to say about religion and the nature of faith.
This is also at times a very funny story, in fact it contains some of the funniest passages I have read anywhere. The description the the children's pageant is a prime example, it is a perfectly straight and very detailed account of events, it makes no effort to be funny, yet it is hilarious. But above all this is a very touching and moving story, heartbreaking at times; towards to end I frequently had to have a break in order to cope and prepare myself for what was coming next. This is one book that will be with me for a long time to come
I should like it. I have many friends who’ve given it 5 and 4 stars, much of it takes place in “my era” and I feel as though I should like Irving’s work, all of it.
But this is just too weird for me. And I really couldn’t stand all the content about religion and faith and the way it was addressed I found incredibly irritating. Very peculiar story!
I couldn’t even care about the characters. Everything was connected and wrapped up neatly so I can admire that skillfulness but since I didn’t enjoy the story, I can’t muster that much admiration.
I’ll have to give it another chance sometime. The only reason I persisted and kept reading is that this book is the book for my next real world book club meeting. I’ll bet they’ll all love it. What’s wrong with me?! I guess this one just isn’t my cup of tea. Irving is often too strange for me actually, although I did like Garp and loved The Cider House Rules movie. I didn’t like this at all though. I will be interested in our book club discussion because I suspect I’ll be alone with that opinion.
Oh gosh. I didn’t record my reading start date and I have no idea when it was, but I know I started it over a month ago.
I'd like to love John Irving, but I don't. He makes me laugh out loud, which is a good reason to like an author. But in between bouts of laughter, I'm wondering where we're going and why I'm supposed to care. According the the flyleaf and all the foreshadowing, something extraordinary and terrifying is going to happen to Owen Meany. Until then, some of the segments drag on. Some of them, you think are finished and then 50 pages later you're revisiting that scene again. And then the library wants it back, so you return it, and maybe one day you'll check it out again and easily pick up right where you left off because, frankly, not much has happened.
For me, the one fly in the ointment is the heavy dependence of the plot on religious faith and predetermination. Owen Meany's precognitive powers defy scientific explanation, rendering the story to that extent less plausible.
From the first sentence, the book draws you in and won't let you go, even after you have turned the last gripping page. A Prayer for Owen Meany is a beautiful book with richly drawn characters; his "wrecked voice" is not one you will soon forget. The many elements of the plot come together in a breathtaking conclusion that only a master storyteller could create. The book is epic in scope, yet its central themes of faith and doubt, friendship and love combine in a beautiful, riotously funny and yet heartbreaking story.
Owen Meany never fully grew up and his voice never developed, in Gravesend, New Hampshire he is considered to be an outcast. One day a baseball hit by Owen Meany kills his friend's mother, and although this was an accident Owen believes that he was God's instrument. The book is narrated by John Wheelwright, Owen's best friend who spent his childhood with him, and has Owen to thank for his faith. Owen has blind faith in God and he knows that he has a purpose on Earth, he knows when and how he will die and this does not scare him. He stands by what he believes and nobody can stop Owen from fulfilling his purpose.
The problem I had with this book is that it is unnecessarily long, and while reading I often found myself thinking that some parts only diverted you from the story and should have been left out. This made the story slow at times and I would have definitely enjoyed it more if it was shorter. When it was good though, it was really good and I couldn't put it down. The thing I liked the most is the depth of the characters, Owen Meany by himself is probably the most powerful character I have encountered so far in a book. Throughout the story you get the feel that he is holy, but when I found out about his birth I did think that was a little outrageous. John comes across as a weak character, he doesn't believe in himself and constantly needs Owen to encourage him, but in the end it feels like he comes together when his father is revealed. The Vietnam War plays a big part in the story but you only see one side of it, that coming from John's point of view. I couldn't help but think that the author himself must have been so against the war that John represents his attitude towards it. I still have much to learn about this war and I am definitely looking forward to it, this book was just a teaser in that regard.
A Prayer for Owen Meany is not your typical book, certainly not what I was expecting. This was my first time reading something by John Irving and I will have to try something else by him. I was thinking The Cider House Rules?
Because doesn't it look a lot like George Clooney?
That is all I will say on that topic.
As for the book - I AM SO GLAD THAT I AM FINISHED WITH IT!
IT TOOK ME FOREVER TO READ IT.
There is a good story in there, but it is often hidden among all of the rambling and griping about politics by John Wheelwright, the main character, who tells the story.
The story begins when John is 11 when his best friend, the diminuative Owen Meany, who believes he is an instrument to be used by God, accidentally kills John's mother.
The book then goes back and forth from John and Owen's younger life - spanning from ages 11 to their early 20s to John's "present" life as a self imposed eunich school teacher in Canada in 1987. He alternately gripes about the Vietnam war and the Regan era politics.
I liked parts of the story, BUT IT ANNOYED ME THAT OWEN'S SPEAKING WAS ALWAYS IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. I FOUND IT DISTRACTING AND IT MADE THOSE PARTS OF THE BOOK MORE DIFFICULT FOR ME TO READ ESPECALLY WHEN THERE WERE WHOLE PAGES OF IT. Owen has an odd high voice and he decided as a high school journalist to type his newspaper column in ALL CAPS and in all places in the book, if Owen is speaking , IT IS IN ALL CAPS. I GOT TIRED OF ALL THE POLITICAL RAMBLING SO I STARTED SKIMMING OVER THAT PART ABOUT 3/4 OF THE WAY THROUGH JUST SO I COULD FINISH THE BOOK. YOU HAVE TO READ THE WHOLE THING TO THE VERY END TO GET TO THE POINT OF THE STORY. Maybe if you like people griping about political history you will like this book.
The story progresses along 2 timelines experienced by the narrator, John Wheelwright. He alternates between the present (1980s) and his memories of the past (which is most of the novel) -- growing up in New Hampshire in the 1950s and '60s with his best friend, Owen Meany. Owen Meany is a tiny boy with a loud, high pitched voice and an unwavering faith in God and his own destiny. Understanding that destiny and how it influences his own life is John Wheelwright's task. As he says in the first sentence of the novel: "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."
A mixture of sad, harrowing, desperate and laugh-out-loud funny events comprise the growth of these 2 boys into men when they must decide their destinies. Or are their destinies decided for them by God? That is the question that needs to be answered. Owen knows the answer, but does John? In the background, the destiny and righteousness of the U.S. is also questioned. JFK, Vietnam and the Iran-Contra scandal are all here. How do they influence our (meaning Americans') sense of ourselves as moral beings? How should Owen and John respond to the perceived sins of their own country? It is John that gets trapped in this past. He seems unable to move beyond his connection to Owen and his American political conscience even years later when he is living in Canada. One can only hope that telling his and Owen's story will free him to live his life.
I would have given this book 5 stars except for one problem, which is perhaps mine alone. In my opinion, the best fiction allows you to believe that it could be true, even if it takes extremely unusual circumstances for that to happen (obviously science fiction gets a pass here). In this novel, if one doesn't believe strongly in Christian ideology about God, it is difficult (in my opinion) to fully immerse oneself in this novel. There is no way to make it allegorical. It is reality. Although this lost half a star for me, I still think it is a fantastic, beautiful novel.
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.
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.
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.
This was recommended to me by a friend about 15 years ago and I at last got round to reading it this month. Vivid, wonderful writing and a fascinating story. The narrative hops around in time, so you have to read it without long gaps between sessions, otherwise it gets too easy to forget who some of the minor characters are. The length is perhaps my only criticism - I think that it could have lost 100 pages without losing much of its impact.