Kerfe's Reviews > A Prayer for Owen Meany

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
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Oct 21, 08

bookshelves: fiction
Read in October, 2008

The characters and stories in this book linger. It's messy with contradiction. Religion, faith and doubt, politics, war, life and death, truth, sex, family, education, America, the nature of love and friendship, growing up (or not)--all bases are covered, denied, embraced, refused, embellished and stripped bare.

Moving between the narrator John Wheelwright's present, during the Reagan administration, and his youth in the 50's and 60's in a small New Hampshire town, the central character, Owen Meany, looms as large as the capital letters of his Voice throughout the book. John says at one point that he always remembers Owen as a child, and as a reader, I felt that as well. Even as a teenager and young adult, driving, smoking, working, drinking, living with John's cousin Hester, even after he became an Army officer, even then, he still seemed like a lost, earnest, precocious little boy. His struggles with God and his faith, his fatalistic shaping of not only his own life, but that of the people who intersect it, are acts of both intellectual maturity and a childish belief in magic.

Irving's observations, often puncutated not only by John's cynical words , but by Owen's counterpoint VOICE, about Americans and American politics and religion, have been chillingly repeated with the Bush administration and our involvement in Iraq.

On the Tonkin Gulf Resolution:
"DOES THAT MEAN THE PRESIDENT CAN DECLARE A WAR WITHOUT DECLARING IT?"

On the first American troops arriving in Vietnam:
"THERE'S NO END TO THIS...THERE'S NO GOOD WAY TO END IT."

From John's diary:
May 30, 1987--I should know better than to read even as much as a headline in The New York Times...
Reagan Declares
Firmness on Gulf;
Plans Are Unclear
Isn't that a classic? I don't mean the semicolon; I mean, isn't that just what the world needs? Unclear firmness! That is typical American policy: don't be clear, but be firm!

Mavericks, anyone?

It's not often I find myself laughing out loud while reading on the subway, but the children's Christmas pageant, especially, is not to be missed.

The fantastical way the elements come together to realize Owen's childhood premonitions and Dream leave the reader with the same unanswered questions that John has. What to make of it? A Miracle? Is God the answer? John says yes, yet does not really act on that belief.

Owen once told John that you have to act as though what you do matters, even though you can never be sure--that's what faith is. "YOU HAVE TO FIND THE COURAGE TO LIVE IT."


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Nina Kerfe, Good review, makes me want to reread this. If you liked this one, read "Until I Find You"--I loved it. You know I have a thing for tattoos and they are a subtheme of this book. It's one of Irving's best. Thanks for your review.


Kerfe I'll look for it, he is really a good writer. One thing I thought strange in reading through other reviews was how many people objected to the political content, and thought it wasn't an important part of the story...they must not have lived through that era, where no one's story was untouched by politics. Come to think of it, is anyone's story untouched by it now? They just don't seem to be paying as much attention to it.


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