Saturday, October 4, 2014

Book Review- A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving


Everyone in town knows Owen Meany. If not for his stature, then definitely for his voice. Owen’s voice is not only “broken”, but powerful. He’s highly opinionated, very present wherever he is, and he has, quite possibly, the strongest faith of anyone in New Hampshire, if not in the entire USA.

Johnny is Owen’s best friend. Johnny may be one of the most faithless people in town. But through his best friend’s unwavering belief that he is an instrument of God and his unquestioning faith that everything has a purpose, Johnny is about to find his own belief in God. And in Owen Meany.

That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from

“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 was the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.”

In the summer of 1953, two eleven-year-old boys—best friends—are playing in a Little League baseball game in Gravesend, New Hampshire. One of the boys hits a foul ball that kills the other boy’s mother. The boy who hits the ball doesn’t believe in accidents; Owen Meany believes he is God’s instrument. What happens to Owen, after that 1953 foul ball, is extraordinary and terrifying.


If I were to compare A Prayer for Owen Meany to any other story, it would probably be that of Forrest Gump. There’s a passage of time that just makes sense in the story, and seeing how Johnny, Owen, and the people around them pass through the years is very well done. The war in Vietnam takes a prominent role in some portions of the narrative, but it’s a world even that plays in the background of the beginning of Johnny’s adult life. As the narrative goes on, we see Johnny retelling the story as an adult in his forties, putting us in the late eighties when the story is actually being recounted. If a little before my time, it’s still a very poignant story for anyone with even the most basic sense of history. I am FAR from a history fanatic, but I gained an appreciation for at least the time Johnny and Owen grew up in that I didn’t have before. This book is not going to make me a historian. I have, as Johnny says a few times, no historical sense.

The faith is another thing entirely. I wouldn’t honestly put the word “preachy” on this book or even on Owen himself. He’s devout, yes. Opinionated, yes. Pushy at times, yes. But he doesn’t expect everyone to hold to his own beliefs the way someone who is “preachy” would. It’s hypocrisy that grates on him. False faith. And that, I think, is the real underlying issue with faith addressed here.


I’m not a memoir reader. The only thing I’ve ever read that is considered a memoir is On Writing by Stephen King. After that, the closest thing is The Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss. A Prayer for Owen Meany is a blend of novel and memoir that I appreciate. If memoirs are generally presented this way, I can definitely see the draw of them. There is a lot to this novel that makes it difficult to remember that it is a fictional story and not a true one. For that, I commend John Irving.

My Thoughts

I picked up this book in part because I’m familiar with (and in fact a fan of) the movie based on it, Simon Birch.

Wow, are they two very different animals. The message is the same. Many of the key points are the same. But, as is true with nearly all book-to-screen adaptations, the book traverses a whole few extra dimensions the movie simply cannot touch on. I can’t go as far to say that Simon Birch ruined A Prayer for Owen Meany for me, or that now finally listening to the book ruined the movie for me. They are each something to be appreciated for their own merits. The differences are so drastic that it’s… not unrecognizable as the same story, but at least so different that it’s like comparing an apple to a pear. They’re very similar, yes, and one may be descended from the other, but one is so transformed that they’re just not easily compared anymore.

I love Simon Birch. I loved A Prayer for Owen Meany. They are two very different experiences, and both worth having.

Would I Recommend This Book? Very much so. Whether or not you’ve seen Simon Birch, I’d recommend this book. While sometimes a little meandering (not much, but a little) the narrative in A Prayer for Owen Meany is highly interesting, full, and damn does Irving know how to pull threads back together at the end and give everything a purpose. I give A Prayer for Owen Meany an under-3-second 5 out of 5 stars.

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