Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

A Prayer for Owen Meany

Rate this book
Eleven-year-old Owen Meany, playing in a Little League baseball game in Gravesend, New Hampshire, hits a foul ball and kills his best friend's mother. Owen doesn't believe in accidents; he believes he is God's instrument. What happens to Owen after that 1953 foul is both extraordinary and terrifying. At moments a comic, self-deluded victim, but in the end the principal, tragic actor in a divine plan, Owen Meany is the most heartbreaking hero John Irving has yet created.

637 pages, Paperback

First published March 28, 1989

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

John Irving

107 books13.9k followers
JOHN IRVING was born in Exeter, New Hampshire, in 1942. His first novel, Setting Free the Bears, was published in 1968, when he was twenty-six. He competed as a wrestler for twenty years, and coached wrestling until he was forty-seven.
Mr. Irving has been nominated for a National Book Award three times—winning once, in 1980, for his novel The World According to Garp. He received an O. Henry Award in 1981 for his short story “Interior Space.” In 2000, Mr. Irving won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Cider House Rules. In 2013, he won a Lambda Literary Award for his novel In One Person.
An international writer—his novels have been translated into more than thirty-five languages—John Irving lives in Toronto. His all-time best-selling novel, in every language, is A Prayer for Owen Meany.
Avenue of Mysteries is his fourteenth novel.

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
155,239 (50%)
4 stars
94,716 (30%)
3 stars
41,235 (13%)
2 stars
11,906 (3%)
1 star
5,680 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 15,436 reviews
Profile Image for Nick G.
37 reviews76 followers
January 9, 2010
I'm short on time for this review, but man, this is the closest thing to "a perfect story" as anything I've ever read.

***I'm back a few days later to edit my review, because I can't stop thinking about this book. It might be my favorite. I might be in love with this story. As the first sentence of the story starts out, "I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice...", well, I am, too.

***SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT ON IN THE REVEIW***

I think I fell in love with book as I read one specific sentence. It's at the end of the story, when Owen and Johnny are in the "temporary bathroom" with the children, and his dream is starting to unfold.

I thought I had it all figured out - the lunatic kid has the grenade and he's going to try and blow them up. But then I read the sentence when Owen looks to Johnny and says something along the lines of "WE'LL HAVE ABOUT FOUR SECONDS". Maybe I was a little slow to catch on, but it was right then that I realized the reason they had always practiced "the shot". It blindsighted me and I loved it. Irving had made their routine practice of "the shot" so commonplace in their time together, that I forgot about even asking what purpose it served being in the story.

But the sentence carries so much more power than that. At the same time I realized the purpose of "the shot", it also hit home how Owen had lived his entire life for that momemt. He had known his fate, his moment, and not only did he embrace it, he had prepared for it. And when it came time to act and live this moment, he didn't flinch. Just as Owen had lived his life for one specific point and time, the power of this story was revealed to me in one perfect sentence.

It gave me THE SHIVERS.
Profile Image for Lisa of Troy.
375 reviews2,783 followers
October 6, 2022
A unique book about fate, destiny, and faith

Owen Meany and Johnny Wheelwright are best friends, growing up in Gravesend, New Hampshire. Owen Meany is special - he never grows taller than 5 feet tall, and he has a very high pitched voice. However, what really sets him apart is his intellect and faith. In 1953, Owen hits a foul ball during a Little League game, instantly killing Johnny's Wheelwright's mother. What will happen to Owen Meany and will Johnny Wheelwright ever find out who his father is?

When I went into my heart surgery, I selected to read A Prayer for Owen Meany. While slipping in and out of consciousness, I wanted this book to be running through my thoughts. The central theme of this book is destiny or fate. Owen knows what is his purpose, and he wholeheartedly pursues it. That is what is so endearing about this book. Slowly, the reader discovers what Owen already knows, and we discover how Owen was truly brave and faithful.

A Prayer for Owen Meany was published in 1989, well in advance of the internet and the 5-second attention spans of today. In terms of reading this book in 2021, it was far too long. The best parts of this book are the first two chapters and the last chapter. The parts of the book from 1970 and the 1980's were really boring and mainly consisted of Johnny Wheelwright complaining about Vietnam. If you are really into Vietnam, perhaps you will enjoy the middle section of the book more than I.

Overall, a book definitely worth reading at least once. This was my third time through. John Irving also has a new book, The Last Chairlift, coming out October 18. You bet I'm reading it!

100 Books To Read Before You Die (According to the BBC) (39/100):
https://www.listchallenges.com/bbcs-t...

2022 Reading Schedule
Jan Animal Farm
Feb Lord of the Flies
Mar The Da Vinci Code
Apr Of Mice and Men
May Memoirs of a Geisha
Jun Little Women
Jul The Lovely Bones
Aug Charlotte's Web
Sep Life of Pi
Oct Dracula
Nov Gone with the Wind
Dec The Secret Garden

Connect With Me!
Blog Twitter BookTube Facebook Insta
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,921 reviews290k followers
April 10, 2016
“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've opted for the 3-star approach, but you shouldn't give it much weight where this book is concerned. Some people are really hung up on ratings - does it really only deserve 1 star? you seemed to like it, why not 5 stars? - when in truth, this book is so complex, smart, multilayered and slow as fuck that it's impossible to rate.

A Prayer for Owen Meany is a strange and interesting book about faith and doubt, with Owen himself representing an embodiment of the relationship between the natural and supernatural - everything from his physical description to the events of his life seem halfway between this world and the next.

This is my first Irving book. I don't know if that's a mistake or not - I probably will check out his other work but I'll definitely save it for a time when I'm ready for a slow plot. In A Prayer for Owen Meany, the narrator is John Wheelwright but he fades into the background, offering a perspective that at times feels like third-person.

John details the lives and habits of the characters surrounding him - most notably, of course, Owen Meany - making it a book about them and not himself. In fact, it seems like the author deliberately kept the novel's focus off of its narrator (who is perhaps a stand-in for himself?).

As I said, the story moves slowly and sometimes has a rambling quality, going on and on in exhaustive detail, exploring every aspect of a scene so that we get a lot of character and thematic depth (and also, it must be said, a bit of a headache). But it's hard to deny that Irving has a way with words and storytelling, working up to an important moment gradually and effectively, even if with a painful slowness.

The story spans many years and sometimes jumps a lot of time within a single page, before coming back again. As with many non-linear narratives, it offers a different and fascinating approach, while not being without confusion. It runs alongside many important events in American history (Kennedy's assassination, for example), which allows John to express his disdain for the Reagan administration, as well as his general anger toward America.

I'm not exaggerating when I say it's strange - John's account of his and Owen's childhood is odd to begin with, but the novel becomes increasingly nuts towards the end. I can't say I fully enjoyed it, but I thought the themes were interesting and incorporated well. John's running criticisms of America and American life manifest in ways big and small - the "big" being assassinations and the Vietnam War, the "small" being such as his mother's death by a baseball, an important American symbol.

It's not the kind of book you read for enjoyment (or I personally don't think so, but then I never fully got that guy in college who refused to go to any social events because he wanted to read Marcel Proust), but it is the kind you save for when you want a clever, thoughtful read with many layers and themes to uncover. I am glad I finally read it.

Blog | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Youtube | Store
Profile Image for Mario the lone bookwolf.
732 reviews3,390 followers
March 14, 2021
There are not many happenings and outer plots in any of Irvings´novels, but the language, the thoughts of the characters, and the precise working towards a final conclusion throughout the whole novel is a trademark of this unique writer I would name in a row with Dan Simmons and Stephen King, because he has this unique writing style. And while there is much more action in Kings´ works and Simmons´ is dancing at each genre wedding, Irving keeps it minimalistic and totally character based, the greater setting around, the world, nothing really matters, it are the characters he writes for and loves.

That could be a reason why some readers may find it more boring than ingenious, it strongly depends on if one likes the style, but if it´s a match, boy, those are novels never to forget again.

It´s possibly his darkest novel, dealing with death, guilt, and sacrificing in a cruel and hypocritical society, criticizing many of the evils still lurking under the dangerously thin and still very young patina of the achievements of the human and woman rights movements in Western countries, that are still omnipresent in many other societies.

Owens` strong belief in predetermination is contrasted by Johnnys´strong skepticism regarding anything supernatural and the two friends are used for many philosophical and ethical discussions and reflections that are smoothly and logically integrated into the brilliant main plot.
One must have read Irving to understand the mesmerizing effect of his writing, very few authors have the ability to create in such an inimitable way and this is definitively his grim masterpiece. Oh, and there are some innuendos and connotations about US politics of the last century too.

Tropes show how literature is conceptualized and created and which mixture of elements makes works and genres unique:
https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.ph...
https://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.ph...
20 reviews1 follower
July 27, 2007
A long time ago, I came across a story that my grandmother recommended. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I definitely hadn’t expected to read what would become my favorite book. The story begins as many do, giving background on the area that will provide the setting for our tale, a history as reference, but quickly catches up with the main characters and the supporting cast. And we quickly learn of Johnny and Owen Meany, two friends who forge an eternal bond despite their obvious mismatches - physical, social, cultural and religious differences. And a tragic consequence of a baseball game.

GOD HAS TAKEN YOUR MOTHER. MY HANDS WERE THE INSTRUMENT. GOD HAS TAKEN MY HANDS. I AM GOD'S INSTRUMENT.

Big words for an eleven-year old who can almost sit in his friend's lap. But Owen is so self-assured that whether John believes him or not, he knows that there is something special about Owen. They all know that there is something different, but no one but Johnny knows how different - or special - Owen really is.

Through their years together, Owen grows closer to Johnny than a simple friend: He becomes a brother, an aide in the search for Johnny's unnamed father, an influence that will guide Johnny's throughout his life. From helping to search for the identity of Johnny's father to keeping him out of the Vietnam war, Owen has written the script for Johnny's life although Johnny never realizes it until the end of the story - only then does he know that Owen knew the script for his own life as well, but never revealed it.

Each action in his short life was a test to help him fulfill the one part of his destiny that he couldn't see - the final act. Johnny faithfully helps Owen in these tasks, things that he can't possibly know the reasons for. But to Owen, even Johnny's mother's death had a purpose. Everything had a purpose to Owen. Even if he was the only one to seem to know why things happened the way they did.

He had sunk the shot in under four seconds!
"YOU SEE WHAT A LITTLE FAITH CAN DO?" said Owen Meany. The brain-damaged janitor was applauding. "SET THE CLOCK TO THREE SECONDS!" Owen told him.
"Jesus Christ!" I said.
"IF WE CAN DO IT IN UNDER FOUR SECONDS, WE CAN DO IT IN UNDER THREE," he said. "IT JUST TAKES A LITTLE MORE FAITH."
"It takes more practice," I told him irritably.
"FAITH TAKES PRACTICE," said Owen Meany


Irving uses Owen Meany to analyze faith, not only as in a single religion sense, spirituality as a whole. Despite everything that he endures, Owen Meany never loses his faith, his knowledge that he is an INSTRUMENT OF GOD, as he reminds Johnny on many occasions. It is this faith, through the threat of expulsion, through the lean & hard teen years, and into his enlistment into the army, that keeps Owen going, knowing that he has a mission that he has to fulfill, and not much time to do it. Along the way, he changes Johnny, filling him with confidence and self-reliance and even religion, infusing all of those characteristics that Owen has an abundance of and is loathe to leave behind.

Irving's narrative is uniquely captivating, as is the way that he chooses to depict characters, to breath life into them. Although Owen and Johnny are by far the main characters, they live among a expansive cast, who all have their own place in this tapestry. Owen touches everyone in some small way, leading up to his grand fulfillment.

A Prayer for Owen Meany is one of my favorite books, and many other's that I have lent it to have found a fondness for the story as well. Owen grabs you the way he grabs the other characters in the novel. There is something so strong, so compelling about him that you have to find out what is going to happen.

"NOW I KNOW WHY YOU HAD TO BE HERE," Owen said to me. "DO YOU SEE WHY?" he asked me.
"Yes," I said.
"REMEMBER ALL OF OUR PRACTICING?" he asked me.
"I remember," I said.


And you will remember it, too.
Profile Image for Always Pouting.
568 reviews677 followers
January 15, 2022
I mostly read this because I really loved The Cider House Rules, definitely one of my favorite books, and I wanted to read more of Irving's writing. Not sure I enjoyed this one as much. I did enjoy the writing but the book felt long and it was a little slow moving and took me a while to force myself to get through. I didn't find myself eager to keep reading to find out what happened next. It also jumped around a lot which isn't necessarily bad but I think it just added to this languid reading pace. I think I couldn't enjoy it in part because I've moved past being religious at this point in my life so a book whose central theme is one of faith is going to not be something I feel viscerally invested in. I enjoyed the characters and clearly Owen and Hester are fantastic but I think as someone who isn't religious it still feels hard to empathize with what Owen did. The choices he makes to see things through at the end, he didn't have to do that and he didn't even try to change the outcome and it was kind of frustrating to be quite honest. I don't think the book is bad, I think mostly my rating relates to my own lack of enthusiasm about reading a book centered around faith and religion to be honest, and a feeling that the pacing of the book was slow.
Profile Image for Diane.
1,079 reviews2,605 followers
August 25, 2013
This is the book that made me want to be a writer. I read it in high school, thanks to my favorite English teacher, Mrs. B, who had written down the title on a Post-It note and said, "You need to read this." I immediately went and found a copy and had it finished it by the end of the week.

There is no way I can write a review that is worthy of this novel, but I shall try. It is the story of two boys in New Hampshire in the 1950s: the narrator is Johnny Wheelwright, whose family is wealthy; and his friend, Owen Meany. How to describe Owen? He was small and light, and he had a loud, high-pitched voice. He was smart and a loyal friend. Owen's parents were a bit odd, and his family was poor enough that the Wheelwrights often helped Owen with tuition and clothing.

The first chapter brings a tragedy: Johnny and Owen are playing baseball. Owen, who doesn't usually get to bat because he was so small, was told by the coach to go ahead and swing. Owen hits a foul ball that strikes Johnny's mother and kills her. Johnny is devastated and has trouble forgiving Owen, but they eventually make peace, thanks to a stuffed armadillo toy. (Thus explaining the armadillo pictured on some editions.)

The rest of the chapters cover the boys as they grow up and go to prep school. Owen has a gift for writing and pens some inflammatory columns in the school newspaper. There is also a hilarious prank that Owen pulls on a teacher he doesn't like, which involves a car, some athletes and a stage.

One of my favorite sections of the book describes a church Christmas pageant that goes horribly awry. Owen, who can be a bit bossy, takes over the pageant and assigns himself the role of Baby Jesus, even though in previous years it was just a doll. It's a laugh-out-loud disaster, and almost every year at Christmastime I'll pull out this book and reread the chapter.

When the boys turn 18, the Vietnam War is escalating and Owen signs up for the Reserve Officers Training Corps, which will pay for his college tuition while he serves. Owen even comes up with a plan to spare Johnny from having to go to Vietnam. Owen always has a plan, you see.

The plot slowly builds and builds, and I would describe it as a crescendo. There is a purpose to everything in the story, and by the end of the book, we understand why things had to be exactly what they were.

If you are a first-time reader of this novel, I need to warn you that there is a difficult passage at the beginning. Johnny, who is now an adult and has left the United States and moved to Canada, discusses his feelings about religion. I think this is the point where some readers get frustrated and abandon the book, but I urge you, I implore you, I beg you -- do not give up. There is a reason for it. If you can power through the discussion of churches, you will break through to a wonderful story.

Speaking of religion, I would be remiss not to mention the comparison to Jesus that Irving made. Whenever Owen speaks, his dialogue is in ALL CAPS. Bible readers will note that Jesus' words were printed in an all-red font in many editions. There are other similarities to Christ, but the less said on this, the better.

I have reread this book many times since I first read it in 1990, and each time, it moves me again. Some novels are easy to explain -- this one is not. It's a marvelous mix of comedy and drama and bildungsroman and the meaning of our lives, and I am grateful to have it in my life. I am not a religious person, but I became so attached to the character of Owen that thinking about him can make me a bit misty-eyed. He is complex and fleshed out in a way that few fictional characters are.

Note: This book meant so much to me that I was horrified to hear that Hollywood made it into a movie. There is no way this book could be captured on film. Luckily someone had the good sense to change the title -- probably a demand of Mr. Irving -- but I have no intention of ever seeing it. Some of you may know that I have a hobby of comparing movies adaptations with the source material, but this book is the exception. I want to remember it in its pure form. Owen would want it that way.
Profile Image for Lisa.
971 reviews3,331 followers
July 26, 2018
Being in a melancholy mood, I was trying to think of a book that made me laugh tears. And the first one that came to mind was Owen Meany. I couldn't stop laughing, except for when I cried buckets.

Rarely do I read books that shake my emotional equilibrium in the same entertaining way. Owen Meany in all his absurdities will stay with me forever, just like the other characters, which I learned to love despite (or because of) their highly constructed lives, all serving the "big purpose" in the end.

Some say this is a novel proving the inner truth of faith. I say this is a novel that shows a reader the literary basis of any myth. The creator of stories moves his characters to the grand finale with a purpose, and the reader knows it and cries and laughs anyway.

In my adolescence, I went through a John Irving phase, reading most of his tragicomedy novels in one go, loving his sad humour, his strange plots, his social message and his unique characterisation. Of all his novels, this one touched me most, and it is the one I have kept in my heart over 20 years. I can still see that baseball flying in slow motion. And I can still feel that rage against the author. How dare you put me through this emotional collapse, between laughter and tears? I can still hear the voice of Owen, and feel his incredible determination. The airport scene still breaks my heart, the sheer beauty of the practised sacrifice is just "l'art pour l'art" at its best.

When the narrator sums up his doom, I feel with him:

"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."

Owen Meany didn't make me a Christian, quite the contrary, but he certainly made me a believer in the power of fiction. I am also doomed to remember his voice.
Profile Image for Jason.
11 reviews
March 12, 2009
I've been on a huge John Irving kick recently, and man, am I glad I didn't start with this book because I might have aborted the whole thing before I had a chance to read some of his better works.

This one just didn't do it for me. Whereas I left other Irving novels feeling recharged and alive, I left this one pissed off and ready to drink cheap tequila until I blacked out and woke up in a new world where there are no books or stories or any sort of entertainment derived from the written word.

First of all, I think Irving has a habit of using his novel's narrators as a stand in for himself, which is fine, since he seems like and incredibly interesting dude, but here I felt like he was just going through the motions "Oh, ok, here's my main character, and he's different than me, uh, because we have different names and um...different parents...anyway, yeah, that's how we're different ok story time now!!!" it was a thin disguise at best and didn't work for me at all.

My second problem was the structure. The book takes place over the span of about 30 years, and sometimes events from all thirty were addressed in a single page. Which is fine, if it works, but I felt like he was trying to go for an "omni-present" narrative that ended up being muddled.

I also think the book might work better for people who are a little older than myself. A large part of the story deals with the Vietnam war and it's relation to the Iran Contra scandal. While these passages were in no way "lacking" it did seem like they were aimed for people who were alive during that time, and could share in Irving's (obvious) outrage. Side note - I found myself finding a bazillion (yes, a bazillion) similarities between the national atmosphere in '68, and now.

Oh, and while I love Irving's knack for the unusual, here it seemed like every other page he was trying to force a "classic" situation, wherein unusual characters meet in an unusual situation that illuminates their nature in the most unusual of ways. It got so bad that at times I felt like I was reading a sitcom.

There were a few bright spots. I was genuinely moved by Owen's character, and I thought he served as a wonderful example of how Christ could have been at once holy, and flawed.

Gah - The thing is, Irving is a new love in my life, and like any new love, I wanted it to be perfect. But he isn't and that's fine because who wants perfection anyway but goddamn I wanted to love this one.

Um, yes. Ok, well, I'm giving it two stars - but two stars for Irving is four for most other authors.
Profile Image for Matt.
3,613 reviews12.8k followers
January 9, 2020
To begin the year, I tackled one of John Irving’s classic novels that found me laughing throughout, while also extracting some of the serious themes. Owen Meany is a small child, much tinier than those his age. With this, he has the most grating voice one could imagine. Some attribute this to the family granite company, while others prefer to keep the mystery alive. Owen is unlike many other children his age, as his best friend, John Wheelwright, has come to discover. One summer day in 1953, Owen hits a foul ball on the baseball field and ends up killing John’s mother. Owen attributes this as an act of God, one in which he is a vessel for the Almighty. The rest of the novel is set in a number of vignettes involving John and Owen, surrounding by a number of other characters who cross their paths throughout this complex friendship. From a number of interactions with the Wheelwright family through to stunning decisions that could significantly shape his adult life, Owen Meany finds a way to make his impact felt by all those around him, sometimes in a saviour-like manner. This storyline is contrasted nicely with the adult John Wheelwright who has left his native New Hampshire and settled in Toronto, exploring some of the goings-on in modern (1987) America. Having been a resident of Canada for over twenty years, it would seem Wheelwright is unable to accept his new home and struggles significantly with the political foibles in the US, things he superimposes his own Owen Meany perspective upon. Stunning in its delivery and slow momentum build, the story is a lot more than it seems on the surface. Recommended to those readers who love tales that take their time but leave literary breadcrumbs throughout, as well as the reader who enjoys a meandering tale full of messages.

While he has penned a number of great pieces, I have never read John Irving. Even this book was not familiar to me when placed on my reading challenge list. I was not entirely sure how I would feel about it when I read the dust jacket blurb, but I cannot say enough now. Layered between a religious undertone and preachy child who seems to know it all, the story developed in a meandering fashion, but always seemed able to push forward. I found Owen to be as annoying as ever from the opening pages, but I stuck with him and noticed that he has some redeeming moments, even though he seems too pompous and pious for his own good. His prophetic ways and odd obsession with older women—both in admiration and an odd sexual manner—leaves the reader wondering about him, yet also transfixed by his oddities. Even with John as the narrator, Owen seems almost takes centre stage and does not defer at any time. I did enjoy John’s character, as he comes of age alongside his best friend and seems never to hold animosity for the accidental death of his mother. Inseparable for most of the book, John and Owen seem to grow together and experience life through many of same experiences, though their lenses differ greatly. The flash-forwards to John’s 1987 life show that he remains committed to being Owen’s narrative protector and seems unable to divorce himself from his American roots, refusing the conform to the Canada he accepted as his new home. With strong religious ties to his Episcopalian (Anglican) upbringing, John Wheelwright sheds some of that on the reader as well. With a full cast of wonderfully diverse characters, the story moves forward and is flavoured repeatedly as things take many a tangential turn. Irving is a master at this type of colourful depiction, never losing the reader, no matter how far off the beaten path things get. The story appears to be a quilted collection of memories and vignettes, but soon finds its groove and the reader is able to see the themes that Irving embeds within the narrative. These gems slowly come to create a larger masterpiece that the patient reader is able to see for themselves by the final few pages. I am happy that I was able to last this lengthy piece, as its rewards surely outweigh the non-linear nature of the story at times.

Kudos, Mr. Irving, for a stunning piece well worthy of a five-star rating!

This book fulfils the January requirement of the Mind the Bookshelf Gap reading challenge.

This book also fulfils Topic #3: Children Matter, in the Equinox #9 reading challenge.

Love/hate the review? An ever-growing collection of others appears at:
http://pecheyponderings.wordpress.com/

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/...
Profile Image for Christine .
568 reviews1,068 followers
November 12, 2021
5 stars

I must start by saying this is by far the most unique book I have ever read! All I knew going in was that this is billed as a phenomenal character study, and the protagonist hits that baseball where it shouldn’t have gone. But Lordy, this tale is far more than that.

The story is narrated by Owen’s best friend, Johnny Wheelwright, who has his own story to tell as well. Owen is an irritating little fella who stands just under 5 feet, is light as a feather, and has a whiny, screamy, baby voice. And what a spitfire he is! For a great portion of this tome I wondered how he was going to come out of this looking good. But gradually I warmed up to him and ultimately fell in love.

Sometimes (OK, a lot of times) I was uncertain where the book was going, and the timeline jumps about. The story, set for the most part in New Hampshire, begins in the early 1950s and moves forward through the years until the mid 1960s. It then hops to the late 80s, catching us up on Johnny’s life. From that point it moves back and forth between the past and the 80s. Throughout all this we wade through quite a few philosophical soliloquys, mainly about the Vietnam war and about religion. But be patient. As the end approaches all the little vignettes, the musings, the “seemingly nonsense” are all weaved together into a powerful, monumental, and emotional ending, leaving the reader totally wrecked and with enough to think about for years to come. I had never read John Irving before, but his works are now square in the middle of my radar. This man is stunningly brilliant!

Not only did this book give me so much to think about, but it also made me laugh louder and longer than any other book I can recall. I always read while eating breakfast and lunch and nearly choked several times while reading the chapters entitled “The Angel”, “The Little Lord Jesus”, and “The Ghost of the Future.” Priceless!

I dreamed about this book. That has never happened before. And how ironic that it was THIS book that was the first I ever dreamt about. You will understand if you read the book.

Do I recommend A Prayer for Owen Meany? Does the sun rise every morning? But you must commit to it. It is nearly 700 pages, it can meander, and it is not action packed. But boy, is it profound and oh, so rewarding. It will without a doubt be on my top ten (or five or three or better) list of all time when I ultimately make my way to the big kindle in the sky.
Profile Image for Andrew Smith.
1,016 reviews552 followers
November 22, 2020
It’s a while since I finished this book – I felt I just needed a little time to gather my thoughts on it; there’s a lot to take in. For those who have yet to experience this amazing book I’ll quickly summarise the set-up. The two main characters are Johnny Wheelwright (through whose voice the tale is told) and his best friend Owen Meany. Owen is small in stature (possible less than five feet tall, fully grown) but big in character. His voice – we’ll come back to that – dominates the novel. Set in a small New Hampshire town in the 1950’s and 1960’s, it opens with the catastrophic news that Owen was the cause of the death of Johnny’s mother. A mishit baseball shot struck her on the head and she died from the resulting trauma. How this individually affects the pair of them and impacts the relationship between them is one element of this novel, but just one element. The book can be seen as an anti-Vietnam War rant, which I believe it is - in part. It can also be considered the musings of a non-religious man (the author professes that he can accurately be described in this way) on the teachings of the bible and the way in which these lessons can guide people’s thoughts, behaviours and the relationships they forge. It’s also a rites of passage tale of of two boys growing up amid the confusion of everything that’s going on in their lives.

Aside form his height (or lack of it), Owen’s voice is his standout feature – it’s a nasal scream that is captured in the written version by being shown, throughout, in full capitals. In the excellent audio version I listened to the reader produced what I can only describe as a compellingly accurate rendition of the author’s description. It’s a haunting, screeching and slightly disturbing voice that absolutely stood out from the crowd. And Owen himself stands out in so many ways – he’s wise, loyal, challenging, outspoken and kind. He’s the kind of friend I believe we all wish we’d had when we were growing up.

There’s humour here too. Some of Owen’s verbal tirades had me smiling and sometimes laughing out loud. And there’s a mystery to be solved concerning the identity of Johnny’s father. This is a book that entertained, informed and challenged my perceptions in so many ways. I can only say that I was so sad to finish this tale that it’s taken me a week or so to get over the loss of it. Is it the best book I’ve come across this year? It’s more than that – much, much more than that. I know we all experience these things in our own way and I’ve no doubt some will be frustrated and switched-off by elements I found compelling here, but I’d urge anyone who fancies a thoughtful and possibly memorable journey through the lives of two people growing up to grab a copy of this book. With luck, you’ll find it as wonderful a journey as I did.
Profile Image for Jay Schutt.
243 reviews77 followers
June 12, 2020
WOW! OWEN MEANY...YOU ARE THE MAN!
OWEN MEANY IS ONE OF THOSE LITERARY CHARACTERS YOU WILL NOT SOON FORGET.
THIS BOOK RUNS THE GAMUT OF EMOTIONS AND IS VERY THOUGHT PROVOKING.
I'M WRITING THIS REVIEW IN ALL CAPS IN HONOR OF OWEN MEANY AND JOHN IRVING FOR SUCH A WONDERFUL READING EXPERIENCE. IF YOU HAVE READ THIS BOOK YOU WILL UNDERSTAND. AND IF NOT, YOU SHOULD READ THIS POWERFUL STORY.
THE WRITING IS RICHLY TEXTURED.
AMAZING!
Profile Image for Nathan.
50 reviews9 followers
November 30, 2010
I gave this book three stars because I figure that's the average of five stars and one star. Some of the things about this book were great; others were really terrible.

Irving's strong-point is definitely his ability to draw interesting characters in vivid--sometimes painful--detail. Owen, of course, is the central and most interesting character. He's a little runt of a boy with a bizarre voice, a sarcastic wit, an iron will, and an unwavering faith in God and in the fact that he is an instrument of God's will. In stark contrast to Owen's miraculous life stands Owen's best friend and the narrator of the story, John. We get two views of John. Most of the book consists of John narrating his childhood and telling the story of Owen Meany. The childhood John is self-conscious, indecisive, and unmotivated. The other view comes from periodic scenes of the middle-aged, mundane John who now lives in Toronto and invariably launches into long and bitter rants against the United States and its foreign policy. The reason for the rants becomes clear by the end of the book, but that doesn't make them any more enjoyable.

Many of the supporting characters are also interesting. I really liked John's grandmother, Mrs. Wheelwright, who is a sort of New England, old-money royalty. John's sexually charged and extremely rambunctious cousins are usually comical, and Reverend Louis Merrill is sort of tragically lovable.

The plot, on the other hand, is incredibly long and wandering. Though parts of the narrative are moderately gripping, often the story drags along. Irving keeps you reading not with intense plot development, but rather with an intense curiosity to find out what the big deal is about Owen Meany. While the ending is good--very good, in my opinion--Irving has built up your anticipation so much, that by the time it finally happens, it almost doesn't have a prayer (pardon the pun) of meeting your expectations.

While there are several themes in the book, the most important, in my opinion, seems to be that of faith vs. doubt. Owen's incredibly strong faith is contrasted with John's lack of faith during his childhood, and his passive, "church-rummage" faith during his adult life (which, we are told on the first page, John credits to the "miracle" of Owen Meany). The Reverend Louis Merrill also seems to be a more important character than his relatively small role would suggest, and his self-admitted personal philosophy is the paradoxical "doubt as the essence of faith." In one of the more ironic passages of the book (slight spoiler warning...), Rev. Merrill's doubt is finally dispelled not through the miraculous events surrounding Owen Meany, but through a very mundane and spiteful prank.

The problem is that none of the book's myriad of themes and symbols was particularly interesting to me. The central theme discussed above seems to hold such potential, but in the end I didn't feel any more enlightened than I started. Often with books I find myself identifying with one particular character. That didn't happen with this book, and I think that impeded my ability to glean insight from the story.

Overall, I'm glad I read it. I'd be interested to hear what other's have to say about it.
Profile Image for Tom.
65 reviews10 followers
January 1, 2008
I'm sure you can read a million reviews about this book. It seems to be many people's favorite. Let me just say that I have read 5 or 6 John Irving books, and this is the only one that is much more than a good story. About 10 years ago I was assisting a photography class for adults, and one of the particpants, a minister, saw that I was reading this book. He said that A prayer for Owen Meany had more to say about the nature of God than anything he had ever read. We had a fabulous conversation about the book. I am basically an atheist, without the anti-god feeling that sometimes implies, yet despite our religious differences, we took exactly the same things away from this story. It's a powerful narrative.
Profile Image for Samantha.
385 reviews183 followers
January 11, 2021
I can honestly say that this is one of the worst novels I've ever read. John Irving's writing was terrible and his rambling, seemingly unedited style was the death of A Prayer for Owen Meany. The novel is about two boys growing up as best friends in New Hampshire in the '50s and '60s. One boy is John, the narrator, who is telling the story looking back from the 1980s. The other boy is Owen Meany, whose small size, high-pitched voice, and uncanny religious fervor make him an outsider. Owen, as John discovers, believes he is God's instrument and has all these abnormalities so he can carry out the mission God has for him.

The plot at its core wasn't terrible and I was curious to see how Owen's visions of the future and his religious conviction panned out. Irving is good at foreshadowing and there was definitely humor in the novel, especially in the character of Grandmother Wheelwright, John's stubborn grandmother. But I can honestly say that I didn't care for either John or Owen and to have both of the main characters be unlikable was a mistake. Irving has a tendency to rant. John in the 1980s spends pages and pages ranting about the Iran-Contra affair, president Reagan's shortcomings, and the Vietnam War. These rants do nothing to move the story along and are basically just a heavy-winded, often redundant criticism of American politics. Owen is always so holier-than-thou while being such a flawed character himself that I found him to be a frustrating know-it-all bordering on the insane. I couldn't see why John and Owen were friends, since Owen acts so superior to John and they have little in common.

What really got to me was this novel's blatant sexism. Irving would go out of his way to make it clear that the only purpose of the female characters in this novel was to be sexual objects (unless they were over sixty, like Grandmother Wheelwright). Irving would spend paragraphs ranting about each female character's breasts and would go out of his way to make sexual references about the women in the story. There were many unnecessary crude remarks about women, such as a description of how a twelve-year-old girl looked in her dress without underwear, a stripper picking up an orange with her vagina, and John going on for paragraphs about his own mother's breasts. These descriptions were offensive and demeaning to women and Irving certainly could have left them out.

A Prayer for Owen Meany could have been considerably shorter if Irving had had a decent editor to considerably cut back his ramblings. As it was the novel was boring and pointless. The sexism disgusted me and was wholly unnecessary. I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone. Reading it is a colossal waste of time.
Profile Image for Jenna ❤ ❀  ❤.
741 reviews1,102 followers
December 24, 2020
"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."

How is it that some people can write so well that you're reeled in on the very first page? How is it that some books grasp you so tightly, with just a sentence or two, that there's no way you can possibly move on with your life until you've read the rest of it? And then you do and 637 pages wasn't enough?

That's how it was for me with A Prayer for Owen Meany. It's been months since I got this into a novel. Talk about a book to end your reading slump! 

I read the beginning sentences and that was it. I knew I would spend the next several days submerged in Owen Meany's world. It doesn't matter that I'm atheist and don't believe in any gods. I read those lines and I was consumed.

If I tell you what it's about, it won't sound all that interesting: A guy writes about his childhood, growing up in 1950s New Hampshire with his best friend Owen Meany who accidentally killed his mother. 

The childhood of two boys, one of whom kills the other's mother, doesn't sound particularly captivating. But captivate you it does. Owen Meany is one of the most memorable characters I've come across in my reading history. THAT VOICE!  

Owen Meany is tiny but his presence and his personality are gigantic. He is cute and sweet and lovable and at times downright exasperating. 

A Prayer for Owen Meany is witty and philosophical. It's political. It's tragic. And yet it's downright fun. This book is going to stay with me for a long time and I recommend it to all of you who love those books that make you live in them.

The only downside is that it's lengthened my TBR list by compelling me to add John Irving's other thirteen novels. Damn it, John; it was long enough already!
Profile Image for Brian.
671 reviews314 followers
March 9, 2019
“…belief poses so many unanswerable questions!”

I first read “A Prayer for Owen Meany” about 20 years ago, and loved it. Having just reread it at age 40, I liked it.
The others in my book club who read it in their younger days and were returning to it had the same feelings, so I’m not the odd man out.
The reasons I like this text are numerous.
First off, John Irving writes the hypocrisy and contradictions of human nature very well, and in a manner that does not judge, just acknowledges. Our narrator in this text is Jon Wheelwright, an expat American living in Toronto in the late 1980s. He is telling the reader about his childhood and formative years in his hometown of Gravesend New Hampshire. At least 90% of the novel is Jon’s memory of the past. That is a good thing, because when we get snippets of the present Jon is unlikable and a man who really has not progressed in any true fashion since his mid-twenties. Just as Jon’s self-righteousness and total lack of accurate sense of self gets grating for the reader, Irving writes something that lets you know it is okay to think Jon is a bit of a jerk. I appreciate that human honesty. In fact, Irving said in a 1989 interview this about his character Johnny Wheelwright, “He is puerile. His sense of political outrage is strictly emotional.”
A highlight of the text is the chapter “The Little Lord Jesus”. It is one of the funniest things I have ever read in a novel. It is slap dash mayhem, and yet the deft characterizations are so tantalizingly real that it is blisteringly funny. Humanity, when presented skillfully and truthfully, can be ridiculously funny.
The “voice” of the title character Owen Meany is perhaps the novel’s greatest strength. Owen is vivid, he sticks with you.
The novel also boasts (on page 277 in my edition) one of the best and most concise defenses of religious faith I have come across in fiction.
And despite my saying all that, my reaction this time around was not nearly as strong as 20 years ago. Not even close.
Why?
I am not really sure, but some possible reasons:
The first half of the book is much much stronger than the second half.
The moments in the ‘present’ in Toronto could have been greatly reduced at no loss to the text.
In addition, an editor could have exerted a greater influence on the author before the novel was published. It is a little longer than it needs to be.
Yet, the ending of the text made me nervous and teary. The reader wants to have the power to believe in Owen as God’s instrument, even if he is not. And is he? Moreover, as already mentioned, John Irving writes real people. I love that his books are populated with minor characters who are quite real. This despite the fact that in the novel they are only given a few sentences, but in those sentences Irving creates a humanity.
Therefore, with this text, despite its issues and obvious flaws, I accept it. I embrace its lessons and what it has to say. Maybe that is the point?
As a character says in the text, “Faith itself is the miracle.”
Profile Image for Debbie.
683 reviews425 followers
February 3, 2021
Are you a believer of fate or of coincidence?

Well! That was interesting! I don't know why it took me almost three weeks to read this book. Maybe because I was trying to concentrate and savor all the foreshadowing, the analogies, the humor, and the symbolism in this story, which was about religion, politics, human relationships - life itself. It was during the final 100 pages where everything started falling into place for me. Glad I stuck with it!

This book is definitely character-driven:
*Johnny Wheelwright (narrator) - I would have been more than satisfied if his purpose was to reminisce about the life and times spent with Owen Meany - those were the parts I enjoyed most! BTW, I figured out who his father was within the first chapter! I think telling about his life (after Owen) was filler. Teachers like him often lead students to hate reading! At times, I felt his musings about his female students to be inappropriate.
*Owen Meany (title character) - that VOICE! "He demanded attention; and he got it." He's a self-proclaimed eccentric and peculiar person. What to make of him? Sometimes, I liked Owen, and sometimes he gave me THE SHIVERS.

As an aside: While messaging a GR friend shortly after Biden's Inauguration, he recalled watching Kennedy's Inauguration where Robert Frost struggled reading his poem, so imagine my surprise when I read about this same incident in this particular book several days later! Was this fate, or was it a coincidence?

This book will make you think!
Profile Image for Algernon (Darth Anyan).
1,462 reviews926 followers
August 30, 2015

It was Owen Meany who taught me that any good book is always in motion – from the general to the specific, from the particular to the whole, and back again. Good reading – and good writing about reading – moves the same way.

John Irving is a great believer in the power of opening and closing lines. The one I have chosen above comes from the middle of the novel, but it explains both my fascination with the hero of the story and my goals in reviewing – connect the universal with the individual. Implied is a judgment of value: this is a great story, one that I admire despite several shortcomings or mannerisms that turned the reading experience into a see-saw ride from the sublime to the annoying.

The ‘sublime’ is in the universal search for meaning, for a direction in life. The word prayer in the title, and the famous opening lines, point towards an exploration of faith in the modern age. Two boys grow up together in a small town in New Hampshire. We follow them from the 1950’s to the late 1980’s, with a major turning point during the Vietnam War. John Wheelwright is a scion of what is the equivalent of local aristocracy, the wealthiest and most respected family in town. He is good looking but extremely shy and unassuming. Owen Meany is coming from a blue-collar background, a dysfunctional family, yet he is assertive, determined, charismatic, despite his diminutive size and his piping loud voice.

John Wheelwright is the narrator, from the perspective of an old man remembering in extensive flashbacks the events of his childhood and youth, events dominated by the personality of his friend Owen Meany. Contemporary observations of John’s life in self-imposed exile in Canada are anchoring the story in the present. John is a bland character by design: he is a witness of the times, not an actor. That role is reserved for Owen. In a Christmas pageant John describes himself as a Joseph, a passive element in the myth. Right from the first page we learn that John is on a quest to understand and to eventually embrace religion. He moves in childhood from Catholic to Episcopalian to Presbyterian and several other popular faiths of the period, with detours into hippie and anti-war culture. As a child, he follows the traditions of his parents and family. As a student he starts to ask questions and to have doubts. His spiritual journey is also expressed by his search for his father, a secret that his unwed mother took with her to her early grave.

What made Mr. Merrill infinitely more attractive was that he was full of doubt; he expressed our doubt in the most eloquent and sympathetic way.

The first key to the novel for me lies in this Pastor Merrill and his lack of faith. Trough John and Owen, Irving proposes a rebirth of Christianity not by following the old dogma, but by telling new stories, better adapted to our modern culture.

He taught the same old stories, with the same old cast of characters; he preached the same old virtues and values; and he theologized on the same old “miracles” – yet he appeared not to believe in any of it. His mind was closed to the possibility of a new story; there was no room in his heart for a new character of God’s holy choosing, or for a new “miracle”.

If John is the passive voice, Owen Meany is very much the active one, the needed “miracle”. He always knows what he wants and he always knows how to make the others do what he wants. If anything, he is a little too obvious a plot device, with so much foreshadowing and manifest destiny expressed through him:

On the subject of predestination, Owen Meany would accuse Calvin of bad faith. There were no accidents; there was a reason for that baseball – just as there was a reason for Owen being small, and a reason for his voice.

And: I remember how he had appeared to all of us: like a descending angel – a tiny but fiery god, sent to adjudicate the errors of our ways.

... he was still and would always be The Voice. He demanded attention; and he got it.
I don’t want to go into details about the spiritual journey undertaken by the two friends. It has, like the rest of the book, its ups and downs, its rushing to the finish line moments and its slogging at a snail’s pace interludes. What I want to point out are two other keys to understanding the novel:

- It is an extremely detailed and lovingly drawn journey down memory lane for the writer, incorporating many autobiographical elements of a sheltered childhood and of a controversial education in a private college in Exeter, New Hampshire, followed by a growing political awareness and militancy. This moving from the universal search for truth to the particulars of life in a small town worked very well for me, despite being almost drowned in the ordinary details of day to day life for the boys. The talent of John Irving shines brightly in his character sketches and in his ironic brand of humour, one that exposes the ills of society without foaming at the mouth anger. The older version of John is though a much bitter narrator than the younger one ( THIS COUNTRY IS MORALLY EXHAUSTED. ), spending too much time criticizing the politics and the leadership of his native land. The targets of the author’s satire are many, but the most time is spent on school leaders ( HOW CAN THEY PRESUME TO TEACH US ABOUT OURSELVES IF THEY DON’T REMEMBER BEING LIKE US? ) and war mongering.

- It includes metafictional elements, by making the older John both a reader and a teacher of literature, examining the way stories shape and define our understanding of the world. It also connects with the first thread, with the need to create new stories instead of blindly following the old ones. One of the examples chosen to illustrate the point is John’s doctorate study of “Tess of the d’Urbervilles” and the importance of predestination in the work of Thomas Hardy. It also gives us John’s favourite quote as a storyteller, also borrowed from Hardy:

A story must be exceptional enough to justify its telling. We storytellers are all ancient mariners, and none of us is justified in stopping wedding guests, unless he has something more unusual to relate than the ordinary experiences of every average man and woman.

Which quote bring me to the few reasons I didn’t rate this present novel among my favourites, despite the engrossing experiences recounted here and the beautiful prose of John Irving.

- There are a LOT of ordinary experiences. The novel feels padded, and some of the salient points are made not once or twice, but five or ten times, as if the ordinary reader is too thick-headed to get it right the first time.
- There is too much predestination, maybe not surprising in a novel dealing with religion and faith, but something that I find personally very difficult to accept. I am a natural doubter, and admire people like John Randi who are working to expose the usual scams of confidence artists. Most of my beef with religion comes from the injunction to believe in the absence of evidence, something our John spends his whole life trying to embrace. ( It’s a no-win argument – that business of what we’re born with and what our environment does to us. And it’s a boring argument, because it simplifies the mysteries that attend both our birth and our growth. )
- Speaking of John, he is such a wet noodle as a person, that I had absolutely zero interest in his struggles to get a girlfriend or to make a career for himself. His only relevance is as a sounding board for the author’s faith explorations.
- Owen is better company, and a LOT of fun to have around, but so over the top in his portrayal that I never for a minute considered him as a real person, as opposed to a theatrical role. ).

Conclusion: John Irving confirmed that he is one of the most talented storytellers on my library shelves, intellectually provocative and touchingly empathetic towards his characters. Owen Meany is a memorable hero of our modern world, but I don’t plan to re-read his story anytime soon. I plan to read instead “The Tin Drum” by Gunther Grass, which I understand served as inspiration for John Irving in writing the present novel.
Profile Image for Cheri.
1,684 reviews2,240 followers
June 5, 2018
I'm so glad they released 'A Prayer for Owen Meany: A Novel' for Kindle. I would have read it eventually otherwise, but I read this in the midst of multiple flights almost back to back. There were minor things that kept me from giving this five stars, but they are typical of John Irving's writing style.All in all, I loved this book.
Profile Image for Choko.
1,166 reviews2,568 followers
October 26, 2016
*** 5 ***

A buddy read with the most beloved Judy!!! Owen Meany was a gift!!!
Profile Image for Maxwell.
1,089 reviews7,947 followers
February 6, 2017
I might need to come back and write a longer review after I've thought about this book for a while because there is definitely a lot to ponder. It's a 600+ page book that I never fully loved, but I never wanted to stop reading it. Objectively, I think this book is really smart and thoughtful and 'good' (whatever that means). But my heart was never fully in it. This review is not going to make a lot of sense because I don't think I've made sense of my feelings towards this one yet. Anyway, it made me want to read more John Irving novels, so that says something. I just can't blanket recommend this to people. You've got to want to read it and appreciate slow, more thoughtful stories that take a long time to develop. I do like how it ended though, and reading the afterward made me realize how meticulous Irving is with crafting his stories. 3.5 stars
Profile Image for Mark Lawrence.
Author 51 books50.5k followers
December 27, 2021
I read this book a long time ago and my memory of the plot is ... sketchy ... to say the least.

However I do remember how well John Irving captures not only people but the way in which the years change them, and how well he describes that endless interplay between their past and their present. He nails the way in which the random moments of our childhood - those scattered points of light that mark our joys and shames - become the constellations that guide us, imbued with all the mythological significance that astrology imposes on the meaningless patterns of the stars.

Irving knows that nostalgia cuts, and also that it's a blade we cannot keep from applying to our own flesh.



Join my Patreon
Join my 3-emails-a-year mailing list #prizes




..
Profile Image for BAM the enigma.
1,766 reviews352 followers
February 23, 2022
Ok someone with lots more technology intelligence has to make Owen Meaney Memes like baby yoda memes because I swear they are loved just the same! OMG! I want a build-an-owen and I will hug him and squeeze him

This book is going to break my heart, isn’t it? Something is going to rip open my chest, yank out my heart and smash it with a sledgehammer. I know it! Just smash 💥 splat

Being a cradle Catholic as well as an ex Catholic school teacher, I forget just how many people in the world are not Catholic. “ they don’t nail him to the cross when he’s a baby!” Lol I do recognize, however, the constant confusion of when to stand, kneel, sit, stand, genuflect repeat. I feel like that’s like riding a bike. I’m no longer practicing about 15 years now, but I have a feeling I could’ve gone yesterday and done just fine. I think the kids in the book are Protestant, which I know is not the same thing but it’s close.

Also if they hurt one hair on Baby Yoda’s, I mean Owen’s head There will be repercussions.

“…she possessed the nonspecific clumsiness of someone who makes such a constant effort to be inconspicuous that she is creatively awkward--within meaning to..."
--John Irving
God how many times could this statement describe me. This is to only describe the new maid's actions, but I think I can insert my mouth words in there somewhere

I find this book quite entertaining but for some reason i just can’t read it quickly at all.
I I’ll say Owen is one of the most adorable characters EVER!
Profile Image for John Anthony.
716 reviews79 followers
April 14, 2019
A long book which I didn’t want to end. I’m not alone in wanting the star of the show back.

He (OM that is) and John Wheelwright are best friends who grow up together in New Hampshire. Their lives are intertwined. They love each other in an almost biblical sense. The Bible and religion will figure quite prominently here, but don’t let that put you off.

These boys are born in 1942, (the same year as John Irving) so we follow them through interesting times in the US of A – the cold war, Cuba, Kennedy assassinations, the Summer of Love and, central here, Vietnam.

Owen, though very small in stature, has a giant personality, one that leads and teaches and understands. John, the narrator is always in his shadow (I did use the word biblical, remember? John was the disciple who Jesus loved?)

Owen Meany is not someone you can forget in a hurry. Irving’s imagination went into overdrive when creating him and his story. Lots of humour, pathos, superb characterisation. Come back into my life, Owen Meany!!

Basket ball will never be the same again for me.

If it’s not on your radar it should be. Be warned! You will probably get a nudge from me in that direction.
Profile Image for Lorna.
629 reviews339 followers
January 17, 2023
A Prayer for Owen Meany was one of John Irving's earlier works that I have waited too long to read, what a beautiful and engaging book. This is the tale of two young boys growing up in a small community in New Hampshire, Gravesend, and their friendship throughout the late twentieth century, the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. They remained close friends throughout their childhood, their college years and beyond. This is the story of Owen Meany, an extremely small child, his father working in the granite business, often rumored to give Owen's pale skin its translucency and his voice its loud timbre. Owen's best friend is Johnny Wheelwright living with his single mother and grandmother in the family home that was established in the mid-1600s. The Wheelwright family was a matriarchal family with a large and raucous extended family. As the book opens we learn much about the enduring friendship between Owen Meany and John Wheelwright:

"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 that I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany."


There is also a vibrant history of America during that time from the Camelot days of the Kennedy's, through the turbulent 1960s with its assassinations and into the Vietnam war and the anti-war demonstrations as more Americans were being killed during the Johnson and Nixon administrations. This is also the time of Reagan's presidency and the Iran-contra scandal. It was a time awash in a lot of political upheaval. In the words of John Wheelwright:

"If someone ever presumed to teach Charles Dickens or Thomas Hardy or Robertson Davies to my Bishop Strachan students with the same, shallow, superficial understanding that I'm sure I possess of world affairs--or, even, American wrongdoing--I would be outraged. I am a good enough English teacher to know that my grasp of American misadventures--even in Vietnam, not to mention Nicaragua--is shallow and superficial. Whoever acquired any real or substantive intelligence from reading newspapers? I'm sure I have no in-depth comprehension of American villainy; yet I can't leave the news alone!"

Four strong winds that blow lonely,
Seven seas that run high,
All those things that don't change come what may,
But our good times are all gone.
And I'm movin' on,
I'll look for you if I'm ever back this way."
Profile Image for Dem.
1,175 reviews1,064 followers
August 9, 2013
A Prayer for Owen Meany was a novel that I had wanted to read for a very long time and was it worth the wait.....................?

For the first 150 pages I was totally engrossed in the story and the characters of John, Owen, John’s Mother Tabitha and Grandmother. But as the story progressed it became bogged down with an over abundance of details, facts and political and religious opinions and at times I found myself totally switching off and longing to get back to the story I started.

I really felt so divided about whether I loved or hated this novel, I loved the humour and the sadness in the novel, I enjoyed the characters, I loved the sense of time and place that John Irving managed to create by his vivid writing. There are some really smart passages from this novel that I totally loved

“We have a generation of people who are angry to look forward to,” Owen said. “And maybe two generations of people who don’t give a shit,” he added.

and regarding the death of Marilyn Monroe
“ it has to do with all of us said Owen Meany, when I called him that night, She was just like our country-not quite young anymore, but not quire old either, a little breathless, very beautiful, maybe a little stupid, maybe a lot smarter than she seemed”

I loved the characters and felt I know each and every one of them I especially loved Tabitha and Grandmother but did not enjoy the character of Owen or John although I did appreciate how well they were written. I love how the author brings to life all of his characters and I enjoyed the fact that they all had a voice in this novel while some were entertaining some were downright boring as in the case of John but they all have a place in this story.

There were times in this novel I hated this book and was tempted so many times to throw in the towel as I found parts of the story so boring. I especially disliked the Christmas Nativity Section and while I read the long winding and boring description of this play and its characters and happenings I think my mind was a million miles away. I also felt that the author was preaching to me throughout the novel and I really disliked his political and religious ramblings.

I think if I could draw a bar chart for each chapter I could better represent my highs and lows on this novel than writing a review. Its not a book I would recommend to my friends but having said that I am glad I finally got around to reading this Novel. A difficult book for me to rate but I think I have settled on a 3 star rating as I liked it but did not love it and found it way too long.
Profile Image for Steve.
251 reviews862 followers
August 8, 2012
Write memorable characters. How many “How to Write” books have said that? Whatever the number, it’s a rule that John Irving must have taken to heart. Readers of this book will not soon forget the little guy in the title. Owen was exceedingly small, and had a high, almost cartoonish voice. But he also had a commanding presence. When he spoke, people listened. In large part, this was because he had a lot to say. He was opinionated, influential, and smart.

The narrator, John, was not as central to the story. But he and his family allowed us to get to know Owen through their interactions with him. Johnny was Salieri to Owen’s Mozart, and Irving deserves credit for making the device work. The member of Johnny’s family that launched the initial part of the plot was his mom. Owen, as a boy, had an almost unnatural attachment to her including an appreciation for the way she filled out a sweater. (According to reviews, breast obsession is kind of a thing with Irving. His newest book is evidently chock-full of boobaphilic references.) Anyway, the whole world within this book was turned upside down with one swing of a bat. Owen, who rarely got to play, and even more rarely got to try for anything but a walk, hit a foul ball that ended up killing Johnny’s mom. Of course, it was nobody’s fault, but Owen began considering himself some kind of instrument of fate.

Despite the initial impressions Owen made, he won over most everyone he met. This included Johnny’s extended family: cousins, father figure, and patrician grandmother with the big house where everyone often met. (As another aside, I wonder why, in the interest of gender equality, there’s no such word as “matrician”.) Though less privileged than most, Owen became a big-shot at the private school that Johnny’s family arranged for him to attend. He was known as “The Voice” for his popular and well-argued op-ed pieces in the school paper.

The plot continues into the Vietnam War era where Owen becomes a soldier and John does not. Several mysteries are explained, but mum’s the word about those. I will say that Irving did a good job sustaining momentum. The only dull parts are those focused on Salieri John in contemporary times. In flashback mode, which is most of the time, the pacing is brisk.

As for themes, there was no attempt to be sly with the Christ allusions. In fact, one scene featured Owen playing baby Jesus himself in the annual nativity play. (I’m big on parentheses today. This time I’m wondering if it’s an old joke to suggest that Christ had an Owen Meany complex.) Then the God stuff somehow morphed into visions and the supernatural. To me, this was a disappointment, because the plot was driven inexorably and gratuitously by it. The story was doing well enough before this sledgehammer blow of thaumaturgy. The surrealism nullified what had previously rung true.

I shouldn’t end this review with a complaint. So I’ll reiterate what an extraordinary character Irving gives us with Owen. I still try to imagine his voice. Whenever Owen speaks in the book, the text is all CAPS so we’re constantly aware that he’s meant to stand out. Along with his voice, we get plenty more distinctions: he’s wise beyond his years, authoritative beyond his station, and as memorable as any writing book could ever recommend.
Profile Image for Anne.
131 reviews
April 4, 2007
I unfortunately picked up this book for the first time as I was leaving for a vacation at my friend's house... for her birthday and Christmas. And I couldn't put it down. I was an appalling house guest, and a worse celebrator. And I don't really regret it, because it marked a moment in time, a turning point for me. I've said this before. I've been sort of struggling with a very personal theory about what I love best in fiction. I think it has something to do with the fact that wonderful fiction (for me) highlights a moment in time when extraordinary things happen to not-necessarily extraordinary people who are forced to react in extraordinary ways. And this book is NOT about that. This book takes that theory and turns it on its head. This book is about an utterly ordinary man to whom extraordinary things give the finger, passing him over for his utterly extraordinary friend. And literally everything that could happen does. And it's about EVERYTHING. I've reread it twice more now, and I'm telling you, each time, I'm on the edge of my seat. And that's great fiction.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 15,436 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.