Book Review: A Prayer for Owen Meany

A Prayer for Owen Meany
A Prayer for Owen Meany
By: John Irving
Published by: Harper
Release date: April 3, 2012
Genre: adult fiction 
617 pages
Source: Kindly provided by publisher

I have kept Owen Meany waiting FAR TOO LONG. In fact, Owen himself may call it a SACRILEGE that I've had this book on my shelf so long, and I've passed it up for shinier YA novels. No doubt, Owen would probably have a lengthy treatise to deliver on the subject of my having ignored his book. This is part of the reason I loved it- Owen has something to say about nearly everything, and he's nearly always spot-on.

Owen Meany is an unusual little fellow, with his diminuitive size, odd falsetto voice, and unwavering faith in God. Owen and Johnny Wheelwright, the book's narrator, are friends from childhood, and continue to be nearly inseparable- even after Owen's death, Johnny continues to think about his old friend. Owen was always leading the way, and Johnny continues to follow his lead long after his departure from this life. The relationship between these boys- the ordinary boy and his extraordinary friend- is another reason to love this novel; it's the kind of friendship everyone should know at least once.

While there are some themes and scenes that are quite heavy, a witty, boyish silliness ribbons its way throughout as well. There were several scenes that were laugh-out-loud funny, many of which are at the expense of Owen's seeming inability to be anything other than serious. There are spots that are cute, in the way that wholesome boys-will-be-boys stories are, making the characters all the more endearing. These bring levity to the otherwise intensely intent storytelling.

I confess that the structure of the book, which intermingles scenes from the 1980s present with memories of the boys' friendship as they grew up, felt a little awkward to me at first. I felt that the narrative was haltingly interrupted by the visits to Johnny's present day. I was wholly wrong. This story is meant to meander a bit; it was more realistically true to the memoir format in which Johnny was telling his tale to tell it more episodically, and remind us occasionally of what eventually becomes of Johnny. What at first seemed a stylistic error revealed itself as structural genius; the pacing, as well as the "chunking" of time- very much how human memories work- were exactly as they should be.

I did not read this book in one sitting; the density of the material, as well as the pure page count, forbade it. Over the course of several days, I was treated to the pleasure of getting to know the key characters- and then, asked to suffer alongside them as they endure difficulties that would have tried the most strong and pious soul. Owen claimed he could do nearly anything with the aid of faith and prayer, while Johnny showed that he could suffer greatly, as long as had his friend by his side. This was a wonderful study of the human spirit, and I feel fortunate to have spent several days digesting it a bit at a time. I will no doubt continue to do so for some time to come.

Summary from Goodreads:
John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany is the inspiring modern classic that introduced two of the author’s most unforgettable characters, boys bonded forever in childhood: the stunted Owen Meany, whose life is touched by God, and the orphaned Johnny Wheelwright, whose life is touched by Owen. From the accident that links them to the mystery that follows them–and the martyrdom that parts them–the events of their lives form a tapestry of fate and faith in a novel that is Irving at his irresistible best.


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