A Prayer for Owen Meany

A Prayer for Owen Meany

eBook - 2012
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Mar 12, 2021

Prayer, in practice, is to hope against hope. Merriam Webster defines it as: 1(a): an address (such as a petition) to God or a god in word or thought; (b): a set order of words used in praying; (c): an earnest request or wish. 2: the act or practice of praying to God or a god kneeling in prayer. 3: a religious service consisting chiefly of prayers — often used in plural. 4: something prayed for. 5: a slight chance.

As a child, I was constantly befriending the down-and-out kids. The ones, who through no fault of their own, were picked on for being different. Whether that was because of a speech impediment, or limp or some other physical or mental handicap, I couldn't resist hanging with them. The stranger they were physically, the better. My mother referred to these friends as my "strays," like they were some sort of street urchins who'd followed me home. To her credit though, she never once didn't welcome them with open arms. At her table, there was always room for strays.

Owen Meany, the protagonist of John Irving's international bestseller A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY, may be the strangest character to grace the pages of fiction. A stray in every sense of the word, Owen is strange physically, socially, audibly and even spiritually. Set in Gravesend, New Hampshire, Irving paints a portrait of New England small town life, lending broad strokes to social distinction. It's norms are suffocating. In Gravesend, it matters which church you belong to, which school you attend (this is a crucial tell-tell sign of economic status), where your money comes from - even how old it is - and how early your ancestors arrived on the shores of North America. It is not a place for stepping outside the norm, yet Owen Meany manages it often and brilliantly.

Narrated by Owen's best friend, his account of growing up with Owen Meany is shared with love and wonder. An unlikely hero, Owen's Christ-like love results in him rescuing his best friend time and time again. Whether it be from his unruly cousins, or the US Army, or a false narrative, Owen is there for him.

Physically, Owen Meany is small. At the age of eleven he's the size of a five-year old. He apparently is inflicted with an exotic form of dwarfism, with translucent pearl-like skin, ears that protrude like a certain STAR WARS character, and vocals with the effect of shouting through his nose. Treated like a pet by his peers, Owen's physique is so slight, a game is made in Sunday school of passing him overhead from one kid to the next. "PUT ME DOWN!" he would say in a strangled, emphatic falsetto. "CUT IT OUT! I DON'T WANT TO DO THIS ANYMORE. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. PUT ME DOWN! YOU ASSHOLES!" Owen Meany makes a habit of speaking in ALL CAPS.

While it's a slippery slope to write a character whose most obvious attributes are physical abnormalities, Irving does it brilliantly. A lesser writer could easily come across as having a laugh at Owen Meany's expense. Rather, Irving uses his physical oddness to accentuate his strengths. Owen Meany isn't left at dwarfism. His character is imbued with traits deemed honorable in members of society, even one as socially discriminating as Gravesend. Irving doesn't do this to redeem the character of Owen Meany (he doesn't require it), but rather, to lift him up as the redeemer. The result is a character unlike any Irving's conjured before. Patriot, angel, spiritual adviser, little Owen Meany may be the biggest hero in modern American literature. With my penchant as a child for the odd, I believe Owen and I would have been best friends.

Sep 21, 2020

An ample title from a prestigious writer! Owen Meany deserves all the help he can get!

Sep 02, 2020

Modern Mrs Darcy

Mar 16, 2020

Owen Meany is perhaps Irving's most comically genuine character to date. He's a slight fella, given none of the breaks life has to offer, and speaks only in CAPITAL LETTERS. He's also a patriot and stands closer to God than anybody you're likely to ever read about. Set in New England, Irving's at home sharing this story.

Jun 17, 2019

This isbn 9780688077082 is paperback version; small print, many many pages. Hardcover format would be easier to read.

ArapahoeStaff26 Apr 26, 2019

I loved this book for its characters, plot, and hilarious scenes (which had me laughing out loud). The deeper themes of religious faith vs. doubt and free will vs. predestination were intriguing. Owen Meany's outrage at political deceit in the last half of the 20th century may ring true for citizens today.

Mar 22, 2019

In almost 70 years of reading one of the absolute best!!!!! Kristi & Abby Tabby

Sep 16, 2018

This is THE great American novel. Funny, touching, and completely heart-breaking. I have purchased multiple copies of this book to give to many of my closest friends. It is the only one that I have done that.

ArapahoeJillK Sep 13, 2018

Authentic characters live in this richly textured story which begins in a small New Hampshire town in the 1960s. John Irving's use of ALL CAPS to symbolize Owen's unique voice is inspired.

Aug 08, 2018

This may be the best American novel ever written.

Jul 18, 2018

This is quite a tale. You could also call it The Gospel of Owen Meany. He truly was a picture of Christ, especially in death. It reminded me of Forrest Gump in some ways, too. I decided to read this book after seeing it on the Great American Reads list and having it recommended by a friend. Even though it is very long, it is worth the journey. I can just imagine Owen Meany and his voice perpetually at a screech. The narrator of the story is Owen's best friend Johnny Wheelwright. This is a tale of friendship, forgiveness and self-sacrifice told from the perspective of the late 80's, but focused on a fifteen-year span from 1953 to 1968. Definitely worthy of making the list.


Aug 15, 2017

Fantastic tale! The comedy -drama is full of surprises and humour. The plot is incredibly well crafted and leads to a stunning climax although clues have been left along the journey. Very gripping-really enjoyed it -read it within a week.

Apr 13, 2017

This beautiful story about the life of our protagonist John Wheelwright takes us through many genuinely unexpected twists and turns, which explore many mature themes in a manner that makes you as the reader take it seriously enough to care for the characters, but not take it too seriously you can’t laugh at it. Secondly, this book frames people in a very real and memorable aspect, each character is their own and they stay with you even after you finish the book. My only criticism is the book can be difficult to get into during the first section of the book, and can drag due to it being 617 pages. I give “A Prayer for Owen Meany” 4.5 stars out of 5. @Ace of the Teen Review Board at the Hamilton Public Library

John Irving's most well-known novel, A Prayer For Owen Meany, was an international bestseller when it was published in 1989. The protagonist's - Catholic school teacher John Wheelwright's - memories of his adolescent best friend, Owen Meany, a boy who suffers from dwarfism and believes that he is God's instrument, takes full centre of the book. John Irving is a fantastic writer: his comic, detailed, and intelligent prose is vast in scope and manages to find humour in even the darkest scenarios. The character of Owen Meany is by far one of the most complex, original characters I have ever read in a novel, and is a character that I will remember for a very long time.
- @reallylikesmusicals of the Teen Review Board at the Hamilton Public Library

Mar 30, 2017

I loved this book - so powerful! Irving is a brilliant story teller, perfectly structuring the complex themes of friendship, religion, politics & principles, and fate vs free will. His language and imagery is exquisitely rich; his vividly detailed characters and scenarios prove him a master of that fundamental writing advice: show by example – don’t tell. Irving reveals to us in tiny sneak-peeks what is coming without revealing the whole picture until the very end. At the end of the book I felt a little like the young narrator when he says about his dead mother: "When someone you love dies unexpectedly, you don’t lose her all at once; you lose her in little pieces over a long time." (p.135). I marvelled at Irving’s insight into humanity. This book is simultaneously filled with hilarity and pathos, and will become one of my all time favourites.

Jun 25, 2016

The male bonding thing just didn't click for me and the ending was not worth the buildup. I'd have been fine with stopping after the first sentence; it pretty much did sum up the entire book.

Jun 10, 2016

I quite liked Garp, but Owen Meany less. I think the central reason is that the narrator of Prayer for Owen Meany, Johnny Wheelwright, is aggrieved yet passive. This puts us, the readers, in the position of listening to him complain but watching his rudderless lack of action in the attempt to change anything.

Prayer for Owen Meany has its roots in a small New England town, and mostly a small but prestigious high school within that town. The novel goes elsewhere, but aside from an airport in Arizona, none of the other settings is fully realized; they merely exist to have his characters fulfill the stations of this passion play.

Each chapter is a novella unto itself, each could stand alone, but their repetition in terms of motifs was occasionally tiresome. Yes we already know what Owen said about the granite sea-wall, we know what Simon will say of his sister, we know what Hester will do in the rose garden. To be fair, the recurring trains, images of armlessness, and even "The Shot" while oft repeated did not grow old for me.

Irving can be quite funny, and the undoing of the wicked headmaster was a laugh.

But in the end, there is more here than I want. It is like a meal larger than desired. And with a self-pitying narrator, somewhat like a meal served by a surly waiter.

Dec 29, 2015

I too laughed and cried while reading A Prayer for Owen Meany. I took it to be "Christian Neutral" satirizing religious folks who happened to claim to be Christians.
I sympathize with questioning the wars we have engaged in since 1945. We did loose all of them and made the world less safe and sane in every one.

Jul 03, 2015

I didn't warm up to the story. It was difficult to imagine Owen Meany as a plausible, real person. Overall, I found this book to take an anti-Christian stance, which can be offensive to some, myself included, particularly considering the title of the book.

Jun 21, 2015

Really great read. At first I wondered why my friend lent this book to me in the first place, however, as I kept reading I didn't want to put the book down. Really really enjoyed this book.

Dec 20, 2014

I don't know why it took me so long to get around to reading this book, but I think it ranks right up there with the best books of the 20th century. It's near-perfect in its structure, and the characters are brilliantly written. I won't be forgetting Owen Meany anytime soon.

Dec 12, 2014

Based on many other wonderful reviews for this book, I clearly missed the magic when I read it. I wasn't able to bond with the characters at all and I thought big chunks of it were just tedious to get through. It's not that I don't see the merit in the book but it just didn't make an impact on me.

Sep 05, 2014

One of my favorite books of all time. Irving is genius in the way he brings the novel down to one final moment. It all makes sense.

Read this; your life will never be the same.

geezr_rdr Aug 21, 2014

This is one of the best books I have read, on a par with the Godfather and Prince of Tides. The composition of this novel should be a case study for creative writing classes, just for the emphasis of Owen's voice if nothing else. Kudo's to Mr Irving for this masterpiece.

MicahS Jul 18, 2014

By far the best required reading I've ever read. So moving and heart wrenching.

1955Mookie Jul 02, 2014

I have been an avid reader since I was 3-1/2 and I am 58 now. This is one of the best books I have ever read. The friendship between Owen and John is so endearing. This book touched on life, death, love, friendship and the future. This is a book I must buy for my must have collection.

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