This weekend I finally finished reading A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. I’m ashamed to admit how long I’d been working through it – about 2 years I think. But, now I can scratch one more off of my 25/25 book list. We’re accomplishing goals here people.
In lieu of a too-long summary from me, here’s part of Amazon’s:
Owen Meany is a dwarfish boy with a strange voice who accidentally kills his best friend’s mom with a baseball and believes–accurately–that he is an instrument of God, to be redeemed by martyrdom. John Irving’s novel, which inspired the 1998 Jim Carrey movie Simon Birch, is his most popular book in Britain, and perhaps the oddest Christian mystic novel since Flannery O’Connor’s work.
Although I did have a hard time getting enthralled in this book, mostly due to not making the time and being mentally out of shape, once I made it to the second half Irving totally pulled me in. The dialogue was continually crisp, clever, and engaging – and the plot was intricate and kept you in a cycle of predicting/guessing/wondering.
Throughout the novel, Owen Meany’s dialogue IS ALWAYS IN ALL CAPS. I loved this device because it forced me to imagine Owen’s distinctive, monotone, high-pitched voice. To me it sounds both whiny and authoritative; I wonder how other readers hear it.
This book could bring up tons of interesting discussions on faith, free will, prayer, friendship and politics – but honestly once I got caught up in the story I rarely paused to reflect on those things. I realize that’s lame on my part, but also I think that’s part of the point of story – a back door of sorts to contemplating big concepts.
In that, I related to Owen’s best friend (and narrator) Johnny Wheelwright, who was a little slow on the uptake regarding the supernatural, Owen’s qualities and purpose, and putting the puzzle pieces together. Here’s a sample of one of those mysterious conversations between the boys.
“I want to go on being a student,” I told him. “I want to be a teacher. I’m just a reader,” I said.
“DON’T SOUND SO ASHAMED,” he said. “READING IS A GIFT.”
“I learned it from you,” I told him.
“IT DOESN’T MATTER WHERE YOU LEARNED IT – IT’S A GIFT. IF YOU CARE ABOUT SOMETHING, YOU HAVE TO PROTECT IT – IF YOU’RE LUCKY ENOUGH TO FIND A WAY OF LIFE YOU LOVE, YOU HAVE TO FIND THE COURAGE TO LIVE IT.”
“What will I need courage for?” I asked him.
“YOU WILL NEED IT,” he told me.
All in all, this was the longest novel I’d read in a while and I enjoyed the challenge. Since it included dry humor, sad humor, politics, faith, tons of mystery and intrigue, and hilarious glimpses into boyhood – an utterly foreign world for me – I recommend A Prayer for Owen Meany. I wish I would have put more determination into it sooner.
(Also, it has some very strong language, etc. in parts, so there’s your disclaimer. Yay.)
I’d love to hear your thoughts and what you’re reading right now. Happy reading!