I have a confession to make. I’ve put off writing this book review of A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving because I am confused about what I want to write. I have many mixed emotions about the book as a whole. About the individual characters. About the ideas of Faith, Church, and Religion that are portrayed in the story. What should I say about this “Classic American Novel“?
The Goodreads synopsis states,
Eleven-year-old Owen Meany, playing in a Little League baseball game in Gravesend, New Hampshire, hits a foul ball and kills his best friend’s mother. Owen doesn’t believe in accidents; he believes he is God’s instrument. What happens to Owen after that 1953 foul is both extraordinary and terrifying. At moments a comic, self-deluded victim, but in the end the principal, tragic actor in a divine plan, Owen Meany is the most heartbreaking hero John Irving has yet created.
It’s true. That is what the story is about. But it is much, much more.
In the beginning, I found the characters interesting. Owen is an unusually bright boy with a very strange family and some incredible courage. Johnny Wheelwright is the narrator and Owen’s best friend.
But as the story progressed, I started thinking, “What is this all about?” “Where is this going?” And pretty soon I was wondering, “How and when is this going to end?”
I kept plugging along. As you know, I mostly listen to audio books and this one was incredibly well done. Audio books have the unique ability to bring characters to life through sound and inflection and drama. A good reader is able to bring you to a place where you can identify the character by the sound of their voice.
Apparently, in the book, all of Owen Meany’s dialogue is written in all caps to accentuate the “wrecked voice”. The narrator, Joe Barrett, was hand-picked by the author John Irving to bring that “wrecked voice” to life.
And it was amazing. It was alive and painful and brilliantly done.
The thing is, the whole time I was listening to the story, I was also thinking, “What am I missing?”
You know that feeling when you are watching a “film” not a movie? This book is “literature” not just fiction. It’s sort of like, “I’m sure there is supposed to be some great meaning here. Some brilliant symbolism that I am just not getting. Am I just not cultured enough, or intelligent enough, or whatever?”
That is how I felt while listening to Owen Meany. Owen truly believes that he is an “instrument of God” in the very literal sense. So how does that play into the mutilation of the armadillo? Or the vandalism of The Virgin Mary? Or the dressmaker’s dummy? Or even the Viet Nam War?
I just really couldn’t wrap my head around all that. Johnny (the narrator of the story and Owen’s friend) seems so wimpy and unsure of himself. Owen is so smart and confident and a little bit crazy.
The author continues to call everyone by their full names – Dan Needham, Owen Meany, Johnny Wheelwright, Reverend Merrill and so on.
So I think for this review I’m going to do something a little different. One of the things I really did enjoy about this book was the lyrical writing of Mr. Irving. And the intelligent use of language that make for interesting quotes.
Here are my top 5 takeaway quotes from A Prayer for Owen Meany.
There are a few quotes that really stuck with me as something to remember; something to contemplate for use in my own life. My hope is that you will find meaning here, too.
- Your memory is a monster; you forget—it doesn’t. It simply files things away. It keeps things for you, or hides things from you—and summons them to your recall with a will of its own. You think you have a memory; but it has you!” – Owen Meany
- When someone you love dies, and you’re not expecting it, you don’t lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long time—the way the mail stops coming…” – Johnny Wheelwright
- WATCH OUT FOR PEOPLE WHO CALL THEMSELVES RELIGIOUS; MAKE SURE YOU KNOW WHAT THEY MEAN––MAKE SURE THEY KNOW WHAT THEY MEAN!” – Owen Meany
- 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? THAT WAS IN MARK, RIGHT?”
“Yes, but let’s not say “dumb-shit disciples” in class, Owen,” Mr. Merrill said.”
- Anyone can be sentimental about the nativity; any fool can feel like a Christian at Christmas. But Easter is the main event; if you don’t believe in the resurrection, you’re not a believer.” “IF YOU DON’T BELIEVE IN EASTER,” Owen Meany said. “DON’T KID YOURSELF—DON’T CALL YOURSELF A CHRISTIAN.”
And how about one more truth from Owen Meany? Consider it a bonus life lesson from him. 🙂
Did any of you read this book? I would love to hear your thoughts.