September 29, 2006

A Prayer for Owen Meany

Note: This review appeared in my monthly newsletter (Feb. 2005). Apologies to those who have already read it.

A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving
Contemporary Fiction
Rating: A+ (5/5 Excellent!)
Top Ten List for 2005


OWEN MEANY (we must always use the upper case for OWEN, because that is how he speaks) is a very small boy with A VERY BIG VOICE who has become an icon in American literature. Readers have bestowed a reverence verging on the worshipful regarding the book, A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY.

When OWEN {spoiler removed}, he becomes convinced that he is an instrument of God and that only martyrdom will redeem his act. The story begins on that fateful day in 1953, but it plays out against the Vietnam War. Some readers believe it to be a novel about America's involvement in Vietnam, and it is, to some degree. Others proclaim it as a great religious novel, or at least one that examines religious beliefs and morality. That, too, is accurate. It is, as are all Irving's novels, a highly complex story with intertwining subplots, strange characters with dark secrets and Irving's very own entertaining and often hilarious narrative. Still others call it John Irving's greatest accomplishment, and some go so far as to say it is the best book they've ever read. However it is viewed, Armadillos, dress forms and Christmas pageants will forever summon visions of OWEN MEANY in the hearts and minds of millions of readers.

It's been almost five years since I first read this and I was a little worried about re-reading it for an online group discussion (some re-reads are just as good the second time around, but others are disappointing, leaving me to wonder if I should ever re-read a favorite and possibly spoil that first impression). Well, I need not have worried. I loved this book! I thought it was fantastic back in 1999 and loved it just as much, if not more, this second time around. Ironically, when I originally read it, I enjoyed the first half much more than the second. I preferred the humor that was so predominate when John and Owen were children and felt the second half was much more serious. This time, I preferred the second half and was slightly bored with the first. There was quite a lot of foreshadowing, yet in spite of it all I still could not for the life of me remember how the book ended. I suppose getting older and forgetful has its benefits. ;)

A Favorite Passage:

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, and her scent fades from the pillows and even from the clothes in her closet and drawers. Gradually, you accumulate the parts of her that are gone. Just when the day comes - when there's a particular missing part that overwhelms you with the feeling that she's gone, forever - there comes another day, and another specifically missing part.


  1. Anonymous5:23 AM

    The whole Christmas pagent scene had me laughing out loud when I read the book years ago. It still sits on the top shelf of my bookcase (where all my favorites are)! Glad you enjoyed it a second time around.

  2. Anonymous8:04 AM

    That's a lovely passage. Owen Meany is one of my all time favorite books. I should re-read this one day as it's been a long time and I've forgotten a lot of it.

  3. I never read any by John Irving because I saw the movie CIDER HOUSE RULES and didn't care for it.

    What are your thoughts?

  4. This is one of my daughter's favorite books and I have it on my TBR list. I just need to get to it. I have watched the movie a couple times and absolutely loved it. For some reason the movie is titled, Simon Birch, instead of Owen Meany. Very nice review. Thank-you.

  5. Stephanie - That scene had me in hysterics, too. Unfortunately, the movie adaptation (Simon Birch) was a big disappointment. I'm glad I watched it after reading the book. I know I wouldn't have bothered with the novel if I'd seen the movie first. Having said that, I haven't read The Cider House Rules, but I did see the movie and loved it (sorry Joy - guess I can't help you with your question). I can't wait to finally read the book. It's in my stacks.

    Iliana - If it's been a long time since you've read it, you're in for a treat. I truly believe this is one of the great books that holds up well to a second reading.

  6. I know many people who love this book. I've started it several time, but have been unable to ever finish a John Irving book. He's so weird to me! I did like the movie, which loosely follows this book: Simon Birch. Have you seen that?

  7. Booklogged, I seem to recall hearing that Irving didn't approve of the adaptation of his book and thus, a different title for the movie. Don't quote me on this, but I'm pretty sure this is correct. The movie leaves out the second half of the book, and as I recall, the ending wasn't the same as the book's finale. I'll be curious to hear how you like the book compared to Simon Birch.

    Bellezza, yep. I've seen the movie and didn't care for it.I do know what you mean about Irving, though. I've tried some of his other books and they are quite odd, to say the least. Having said that, though, I still plan to read The Cider House Rules.

  8. Anonymous6:03 PM

    I haven't read this book but it sounds quite good.

    I did read 'The Cider House Rules' after my MIL raved about it, and we were both really looking forward to the movie. We went to see it and were so disappointed! Perhaps if we hadn't read and loved the book, it would have been OK, but so much was different from the novel that it just ruined the whole experience.

    Now, 'The World According to Garp' was a different story altogether, in that the film is very true to the book and I enjoyed both.

  9. I've heard other readers say the same thing about The Cider House Rules (how the movie was disappointing after reading the book). I'm glad I saw (and enjoyed) the movie. That must mean I'll LOVE the book, right? If you do read APFOM, don't both with the movie (Simon Birch). I have a feeling you'll be very disappointed. And if you watch it before reading the book, you'll have ruined a lot of the joy of discovery in your reading. Just my two cents.

  10. Les, I loved reading your review . That quote was another of my favorites but I had already posted so many on my review. I agree, this is a fantastic book on so many levels. I didn't even comment much on the humor. My favorite is the Volkswagon story. I read "Until I Find You" by Irving and it is a very odd book. The first half is so disturbing and graphic, but the second tied it all up. I'm never sure if I should recommend it or not. If you ever do read it, I'd be interested in your thoughts. But I definitely loved Owen.

  11. Framed, I'm glad to hear you enjoyed the review. I think the first time I read the book, I was completely taken by all the humor. The second time I got more from the political side of the narrative, especially as it relates to our current situation in Iraq. I do need to try something else by Irving. I have A Cider House Rules that's been calling my name for a few years now.


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