Chris's Reviews > A Prayer for Owen Meany

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
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's review
Jun 26, 11

bookshelves: fiction, favorites, united-states
Read from June 18 to 26, 2011

Someone gave me this book years ago and told me it was their favorite book. I finally got around to reading it and I can definitely see why. I can also see why a lot of people didn't like it. I did not LOVE it, but I really, really liked it. Irving crafted an almost perfect story. I loved the way the characters and the main and many subplots were introduced. Much like the Ann Patchett's Bel Canto, you learn early on the the story ends in death, but you can't possibly imagine what's going to happen to get you there. The story raises some really interesting questions based on your belief in God, religion, miracles, coincidence, predestination and American foreign policy. On the other hand, Owen Meany can be really annoying. While everyone else wanted to touch him, there were times I felt like slapping him. And the narrator, John, is in many ways an outline. We don't even really have a description of him. He's only a lens through which we see Owen Meany's story - but it's an amazing story. The basic plot is about two boys in a 1950s New Hampshire prep-school town, Owen and John. Owen is extremely small, extremely smart and has very unusual voice. John is the grandson of the town's wealthiest, best-known resident. But he's also the result of "a little fling" his mother had in her teens. She will not say who is father is. And when Owen Meany accidentally kills her with a baseball, John feels he will never find out. Owen decides he is an instrument of God, and as the years go on he comes to believe that he has a certain destiny that he cannot escape. John describes all the events that lead up to that destiny from the vantage point of 1987, when he has been living in Canada for nearly 20 years. Throughout the story he keeps throwing out facts about U.S. involvement in Vietnam and how that involvement grew throughout the 60s and then juxtaposing it with the Reagan administration's backroom deals to support the Nicaraguan Contras in the 1980s. As the Vietnam war broadens, the tension surrounding what will happen to Owen Meany escalates. (As for the parts about the Contras, I'm still trying to figure out where that really fits in other then maybe as a "When will they ever learn" refrain.) The culmination is brilliant and horrible and raises every question imaginable about faith.

SPOILER ALERT ******************** SPOILER ALERT ***************

So in the end, I keep wondering what was Irving trying to say? Was Owen really a Christ-like figure sent by God to be martyred? Was he simply a delusional clairvoyant? If he was God's instrument, wasn't his action to keep John out of the draft even when he knew John was supposed to be part of his fate an attempt at circumventing God's will? Isn't it odd that will all the talk about resurrection and allusions to Christ, Owen's faith has almost nothing to do with salvation through Jesus Christ? (And what is Irving trying to say with that?) Was John God's instrument being led to that out-of-the-way toilet? And if it was Owen's destiny to save those children, was Dick doing God's will in trying to kill them? If Owen had simply gotten on the plane when he could have, would it simply have been a dream?

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