Jil's Reviews > A Prayer for Owen Meany

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
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's review
Oct 18, 2008

really liked it
Recommended to Jil by: Micah's mother
Recommended for: the faithful, the political, the tiny
Read in December, 2008

Much like Garcia Marquez's Vivir Para Contarlo, this book took FOREVER, and I sometimes felt embarrassed to have been carrying it around for weeks. I felt obligated to apologize to people: "I swear I'm a fast reader! I've just had a lot of work to do, and... this fucking thing is 550 pages!"

Somehow, though, it never felt that long. It never felt tedious, I mean; it felt long in the sense that it seemed I had known Owen and Johnny forever. It felt long in that the passage of time was steady and purposeful, never choppy, but never sluggish. In these 550 pages, I became introduced to a world so rich and so comic that I felt entirely a part of it, familiar with every character and every nuance.

I had seen Simon Birch when I was 8 or so; I remember being horrified because one of the boys says, "You look like shit," and I had never heard the s-word in a movie before. I found out the movie was based on this book before I started reading it, and throughout the first half, scenes from the movie kept flashing into my head. As the book progressed, though, the story changed entirely and lost a lot of what made it so powerful.

The religious part of this book, I'll admit, was nearly lost on me - that is to say, I understood and appreciated the language, but I am so entirely unfaithful, so entirely non-believing, that a good chunk of the book's theme was just unrelatable for me. Still, Irving presented Owen's (and later, Johnny's) beliefs in such a compelling, sincere, and apolitical way that I couldn't help but be admiring of their faith rather than cynical.

Further, the political themes in this novel were SO compelling that everything else had been awful, it still would have been a masterpiece. Reading Owen Meany's assessment of Kennedy: "I THINK HE'S A KIND OF SAVIOR... HE'S GOT SOMETHING WE NEED", his hope and optimism and belief in a better government, was incredibly resounding after Obama's election. It's a bit sad, too; the optimism for Kennedy obviously didn't pan out, and one can only hope that the cyclical nature of poor government doesn't continue. This cyclical nature is painfully evident in the narrator's complaints about the Vietnam war and later, the Iran-Contra scandal - he laments a government so willing to put boys in an unjust war, so willing to lie to its people. Obviously, things have not changed at all. But like Owen Meany, I will have faith in something - in this case, faith that things will get better - even if there is no evidence to support it.
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Courtney I'm so glad you liked it Jil! It's one of my favorites. My only complaint is that I think it would have been better without the flashforward things - present-day John was just such a weirdo, in a tooly-rather-than-intriguing kind of way. Do you agree? Those sections were what significantly slowed my own progress while trying to make my way through the book.

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