In the summer of 1953, two eleven-year-old boys - best friends - are playing in a Little League baseball game in Gravesend, New Hampshire. One of theIn the summer of 1953, two eleven-year-old boys - best friends - are playing in a Little League baseball game in Gravesend, New Hampshire. One of the boys hits a foul ball that kills the other boy's mother. The boy who hits the ball doesn't believe in accidents; Owen Meany believes he is God's instrument.
I would call A Prayer for Owen Meany a modern day tragedy. Owen's life parallels the life of Christ -- not just in the immaculate conception (which seemed kind of hokey to me) or the sacrificial death, but in the way that from very young he is a leader, the center and mover of everything. It even says at one point that special light always shone on him. He is the The Voice -- the voice of the people. He grows up struggling against the authority of the headmaster, and it is a struggle he wins by losing. He is loved by everyone but even those to whom he is closest do not understand his calling, his destiny. And I guess the end result is what would've happened to Christ's followers had there been no resurrection: severe scarring and bitterness, a wound they cannot overcome. Hester turns her wound into "success" through angry music. John basically does nothing but let his pain eat him alive.
The specific focus of this book is the type of religious manifestation or miracle that would be necessary to make someone believe in God. Some people are able to draw on a faith in a “hand-me-down” story, others look for magic tricks, and others look for a sign on such a grand scale so as to leave no doubt. This novel contrasts faith, fate and doubt.
Owen in many ways represents the spiritual condition of humankind; the difference between most people and Owen is that Owen knows he is the instrument of God. His fatalistic faith centers around his prophetic knowledge of his own death, for which he prepares all his life. Owen believes that everything that happens is the will of God. How could Owen Meany have known what he ‘knew’? It’s no answer, of course, to believe in accidents, or in coincidences; but is God really a better answer?
My biggest complaint with the novel is about the personality of John. Or, more accurately, the lack of it. He is sidekick to the extreme -- a spectator to Owen's story. Irving seems to go to great effort to make him a nothing, a nobody -- from the symbolic "Joseph" role in the nativity to complete sexual failure as a teenager to his suspected status as a "nonpracticing homosexual" as an adult. Also, the story is told in an almost rambling, first person narrative in memoir type form. It seemed a bit disjointed at times, especially when interspersed with John’s commentary and opinion of current events. These themes never made sense to me as to how they related to the story or the characters. John struggles throughout the book to resolve his religious faith with his skepticism and doubt and there doesn’t seem to be any conclusion.
However, I did find the ending of the novel to be very powerful. I had not realized how much I cared for the characters, specifically Owen. And I guess the biggest compliment I can pay to Irving is to say that when I read the climax of the story I was sad for the rest of the day. This despite the fact that I knew what was coming. ...more
The problem with historical fiction is there are no surprises. But that fact withstanding, this is another wonderful chapter in the Henry II and EleanThe problem with historical fiction is there are no surprises. But that fact withstanding, this is another wonderful chapter in the Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine saga. The epic story continued in part II of their trilogy. This was a bit more familiar to me as it dealt with Thomas Beckett, the Archbishop of Canterbury. Penman is a wonderful author and gave life to the characters. The only drawback would be there are so many characters, and some seemed so minor that they probably barely needed mentioning. So even though this portion was not as action packed, it was still dramatic story and superb follow up to When Christ and His Saints Slept. ...more