The “I’ve Always Meant to Read That Book!” Challenge: A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

prayer2Title: A Prayer for Owen Meany
Author: John Irving
Genre: Contemporary fiction, literary fiction
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Source: Print copy from the public library
Number of pages: 543
First line: 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 is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.

Goodreads blurb: 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.

I have Bryan at Still Unfinished to thank for the idea of including A Prayer for Owen Meany in the list of candidates for this year’s challenge. And I want to thank all of you who voted for it so that it ended up being in our top 12 choices! (Although, with how busy summer gets, I suspect that not many of you were actually able to read along.) I loved John Irving’s classic, and am baffled as to why I resisted picking it up for so long.

Owen Meany is quite the character, one who will stay with me for a long time. I fell in love with him, just like the main character Johnny did (in a platonic sort of way). The story is told through Johnny’s eyes, and his life is continually impacted by the presence of Owen Meany. So much happens to these boys growing up in New England that it is hard to boil the book down to a simple description. This is a coming-of-age story, but it also deals with the loss of a parent, adolescence, first love and sexual experiences, faith and doubt, and the idea of destiny versus free will. I wish that I was more the kind of reader who stops and writes passages down as I read, because there were so many sections that were absolutely brilliant and had me exclaiming out loud and reading them aloud to those around me.

Now, before it seems like this is such a profound book that it is continually deep and somber, let me disabuse you of that notion. This book is hysterically funny; I have not laughed aloud so much while reading a book in years. The Christmas pageant scene and the scene with the Volkswagen Bug in the school Great Hall had me nearly in tears and wishing someone was still awake so I could read it aloud and share the hilarity.

One of the biggest themes of the books is the idea that our lives happen for a reason. Owen’s size, his squeaky voice, and other events in his life seem random, but in fact are part of what he was created to do. I don’t want to give too much away, because the ending is perfect and heartbreaking.

(On a sort of out of the blue side note, I would bet money that M. Night Shyamalan is a fan of this book, because the theme of predestination and things happening for a reason – and even the phrase “Swing Away” – are hugely evident in the movie Signs.)

If you read along with me in June, or have ever read A Prayer for Owen Meany, please feel free to get the discussion going in the comments section, or else link your review or post in the linky below.

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8 Responses to The “I’ve Always Meant to Read That Book!” Challenge: A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

  1. I am glad you enjoyed this book so much, Carrie. I remember your comments on your blog as you were reading the book and I sometimes wondered if we were reading the same book. Goes to show how differently each of us interprets and experiences the books we read, even when they are the same. I am glad I read the book even if I didn’t care for it as much as I had hoped. Thank you for finally giving me a reason to read it!

    By the way, I thought it was kind of funny that you liked this one so much and I didn’t–and I ended up liking Blind Assassin while you didn’t. We often agree when it comes to books, but I suppose there will always be exceptions. 🙂

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Wendy – that is funny about Blind Assassin! We do seem to have very similar taste, but not always. I think, too, that sometimes the place you are in life has a huge effect on how a reader experiences a book. I think with Owen Meany – for me – it was a big case of right book, right time.

  2. I’m glad you enjoyed it as much as I did…and this review is perfect in that you don’t give too much away like the fact that… just kidding. I won’t give away anything either. Of course. I don’t want to ruin it for anyone reading it for the first time. I never thought of the M. NIght Shyamalan connection…interesting.

    • CarrieK
      Twitter: booksandmovies

      Bryan – I noticed it at the beginning with the “swing away” phrase – and then when the ending happened and everything fell into place…

  3. Sheila (Book JOurney)
    Twitter: bookjourney

    It is a good read. I love your observations of the similarity to signs… I had not picked up on that. I read this one a couple of years ago for banned book week.

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