A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
Updated: Nov 15, 2020
I’ve had this book on my bookshelf for almost 4 years now and I finally had the motivation to pick it up and read it! All thanks to quarantine time. This book was recommended to me by a previous work colleague of mine named Maddie, she said that it was a great read and to definitely get my hands on it. This is a pretty big book you guys, 720 pages long (612 of the actual story). Crazy eh? Now you can see why I waited so damn long to actually read it.
A Prayer for Owen Meany is about a friendship between two best friends, Owen Meany and John Wheelwright. It tells us their story of growing up in a small New Hampshire town where numerous events take place. When Owen Meany was 11 years old, while playing on their team’s little league baseball game, Owen was chosen last to play and being such a small size for his age, no one thought he would actually hit the ball. Turns out he hit the ball with such force that he kills his best friend’s mother. Owen has never been a believer in accidents, he truly believes that he is God’s instrument and that everything has a purpose and a reason. We follow Owen and John from young adolescence through their teenage years and eventually their adult lives in this richly told story. It is set between two time frames, 1950s-1960s & 1987 which is the present time, and is narrated by John Wheelwright, Owen's best friend.
I definitely have to say that this book was not at all what I was expecting it to be. It was a lot more spiritual, religious and political as well. There was a lot that happened in the book that went beyond my expectations. This story is a legitimate, well rounded and full story, probably one of the most concisely descriptive and well told stories I’ve ever read. I literally feel like I lived Owen and John’s lives myself. Owen and John have a very special relationship that goes beyond just best friends, they’re almost like brothers to each other despite their many differences, class, religion, and even physical differences. Even after the tragic and fatal accident that happened at their little league baseball game, they still remain close friends, possibly more than ever. You go through quite a lot in this book. It’s set at an extremely fascinating period of time, the 1950s to 1960s and the present time in the book which is 1987. As you may know, quite a lot happened in the 50s & 60s in America. The Vietnam war, which greatly affected every single American, the election of former president John F. Kennedy in 1960, to his tragic assassination in 1963, Nixon taking over, I mean it’s a whole plethora of events that happened during this decade. Vietnam, obviously being the biggest event of all. As you can guess, this does affect our two main characters and we get to experience and live life through their eyes, and what they go through during this sensitive and hugely significant moment in American history. I won’t give away a lot of the plot, but just know that a LOT happened.
This book is also quite religious, it questions faith & spirituality, and more in detail of the relationship between faith and uncertainty in a world where many people may not see any evidence of the existence of God. I wouldn’t say that after reading this, John Irving is a religious person. At the end of the day, this is a work of fiction and it does play quite a big role in the character’s lives. Especially with Owen Meany. He is guided by his faith in everything he does and he truly believes he God's Instrument. You can make up your own mind about that when you read this book.
I think I liked it. I really did. I especially liked the format of the chapters in this book. Each chapter was pretty long, you have been warned! The names of the chapters were exceptionally thoughtful and made me look forward to reading what the next chapter title would be. That being said, I have to say, for me, it was an insanely long and tedious descriptive book. Like hella descriptive! John Irving really likes to tell a story in grave detail, almost to the point where you sometimes lose interest, which I definitely did at times. Although I have to admit, John Irving is an amazing writer. You can tell that he genuinely loves to write and there is such passion and excellent storytelling in every page in this book, so that sort of justifies the crazily complex and overly descriptive long book. You really do know every little thing there is to know about every single character. Where they live and what they do...it’s a lot. It took me almost 3 weeks to read this book- I was taking my sweet time with it to be honest. I can see some people not liking this aspect of the book at all. Especially with today’s readers, some are not as patient as they were back in the day. You don’t have to be a religious person at all to read this book ether, I think you can get quite a lot from the book as it has multiple layers and really delves into various subjects and events that would keep you hooked in. You also learn quite a lot about the Vietnam war which I thought was cool. I found it quite hard to rate this book, there are aspects that I liked about it and aspects that I really didn’t like. All in all, I have to admit it was a good story and very well written, and I felt insanely satisfied after I finished it!
Above all, this is definitely one of those books that I’ll remember for years to come. It’s a well rounded and captivating story, it’s one of those books that you can read over a long lazy summer, or a cozy winter, seeing as it’s a big book! It’s a story about friendship, faith, politics, and life itself. Turns out that they made a movie called "Simon Birch" based on A Prayer for Owen Meany that came out in 1998. I saw the trailer and it looks terrible! Also, they make Owen’s character a dwarf, which is not what he is in the book at all. Definitely stick to the book you guys. John Irving is one of those classic American writers that almost everyone has heard of and I’m glad I finally read one of his epic books, A Prayer for Owen Meany was his 7th novel, and apparently, it takes him like 4 years or so to write each book!. He has four other books that were turned into movies as well so he must be on to something right?! I’ll definitely read one of his other books, maybe Cider House Rules, or The World According to Garp, but maybe in like 5 years! This was a somber and substantial read. Great if you are in the mood for a meaningful story about friendship, spirituality and American history.
Good read. Takes commitment, but it’ll be worth it in the end.
Below are some quotes that stood out for me:
From ‘The Finger’ chapter- Page 509
Owen is talking to John on the phone about then president, JFK and Marilyn Monroe - (Owen was very upset to find out about the affair between Monroe & Kennedy because he looked up to JFK)
“Those famous, powerful men - did they really love her? Did they take care of her? If she was ever with the Kennedys, they couldn’t have loved her - they were just using her, they were just being careless and treating themselves to a thrill.. That’s what powerful men do to this country - it’s a beautiful, sexy, breathless country, and powerful men use it to treat themselves to a thrill! They say they love it but they don’t mean it. They say things to make themselves appear good - they make themselves appear moral. That’s what I thought Kennedy was: a moralist, but he was just giving us a snow job, he was just being a good seducer. I thought he was a savior. I thought he wanted to use his power to do good. But people will say and do anything just to get the power; then they’ll use the power just to get a thrill. Marilyn Monroe was always looking for the best man - maybe she wanted the man with the most integrity, maybe she wanted the man with the most ability to do good. And she was seduced, over and over again - she got fooled, she was tricked, she got used, she was used up, just like the country, the country was the savior, the country is a sucker for powerful men who look good. We think they're moralists and then they just use us.”
From ‘The Angel’ chapter- Page 146
“God creates us out of love. But we don’t want God, or we don’t believe in Him, or we pay very poor attention to Him. Nevertheless, God continues to love us - at least, He continues to try to get our attention. Pastor Merill made religion seem reasonable. And the trick to having faith, he said, was that it was necessary to believe in God without any great or even remotely reassuring evidence that we don’t inhabit a godless universe.”
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Classics, Historical Fiction, Young Adult/Coming of Age, American Literature
Originally Published: March 1989
The perfect theme song to compliment this book for me, would be: James Taylor - Fire and Rain
Reviewed by Chrissy's Books