Jason's Reviews > A Prayer for Owen Meany

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
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it was ok
Recommended for: Jesus Christ

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.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
July 1, 2007 – Finished Reading
August 10, 2007 – Shelved

Comments Showing 1-27 of 27 (27 new)

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message 1: by Bmd (new)

Bmd Great review, since it captures exactly what I felt about the book. Your remark,

"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!!!"

is a perfect description of what I hated about this book. Don't tell me a character is great, show me see that he is.

Glad I'm not alone in disliking this book.


Scott I hated everything that you hated about this book, plus the fact that Irving lifted whole characters and plot points from Gunter Grass's "The Tin Drum," such as a small main character with an obnoxious voice (and Grass did NOT use all caps). Grass's work was a bemused rant about the atrocities of war told by a broken man, and Irving's is a trite Christ allegory told from the perspective of a faultless martyr. There's simply no excuse.


Erica If you want to keep loving the new love of your life, you might want to avoid Setting Free the Bears.


Rusty You may not be alone in disliking it, but you are definitely in a very small minority. Tiny. So small it should lead you to question what it is about you and not the book that causes you to dislike it. Figure it out and it's probably worth the effort.


Scott Your argument is like someone saying, "What? You don't believe in God? Go ahead, prove he doesn't exist!" It's up to the author's work to prove itself. In this case, it's a pitiful man behind a curtain. (I hope I crammed enough metaphors in there.)


Rusty I figured out what it is that makes you not appreciate it...but that is for you to discover young grasshopper.

I will say that works of art are interpreted differently based on the collective life experience one brings with them.


Scott Rusty wrote: "I figured out what it is that makes you not appreciate it...but that is for you to discover young grasshopper.

I will say that works of art are interpreted differently based on the collective li..."


I really, really hope that what you figured out was not God-related. That's a conversation stopper. Everyone is entitled to his or her own beliefs unless those beliefs infringe on others' rights.

If not, here are some of the reasons that I despise this book (you can argue that I'm being subjective):
(1) As I stated in an earlier post, the main character is a "cleaned-up" version of the main character in the "The Tin Drum." Not only that, but other plot points, such as the gravestones, are lifted directly from "The Tin Drum." To me, that goes beyond homage, straight to plagiarism.
(2) If Irving had portrayed Owen Meaney as anywhere near believable or at least intriguing, he would not have had to use all capitals. His peculiarity of speech would have come through by itself.
(3) All of the humor comes off very stale, sitcom-like, and forced. I enjoyed almost all of "Garp." I don't think I even smiled once while reading "Owen Meaney."


Rusty I agree with you completely on beliefs and rights, and my point is not so much about God as it is about doubt. Because for me this work speaks to the ancient battle within men's minds between doubt and skepticism with the desire to find meaning in life. Synchronicities. Friendships.

Haven't read Tin Drum so I guess I need to. But surely you're familiar with Einstein's quote "The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources". Happens all the time. On every stage. You were just too perceptive I would imagine (if accurate) based on the unquestionable impact this work has had for so many others.





message 9: by Tina (new)

Tina Bembry which books by Irving do you recommend?


Chris Miller I don't see the plagiarism - I think that's quite a reach. As far as critiquing the storyline, I think it's really easy to poke at a story that's obviously not being told by a scholar. It opens with a simple, first person declaration by someone who could've been your next door neighbor, which is why it has connected with so many people. I'm not finished reading it yet, but I wanted to defend what I've read so far - not the author, but the content. Personally, I think the ALL CAPS translates today better than it ever could have, in a society of "capital rules."

I'm still enjoying it.


message 11: by Scott (new) - rated it 1 star

Scott If you've read "The Tin Drum" and can't see the plagiarism...well, then I'm not sure that you paid attention when reading "The Tin Drum." Even overlooking the fact that an entire character and various plot points have been lifted (and perverted--in a bad way) from Grass's book, I found the cloying Christ allegory unbearable. The Owen Meaney character exists to serve as an after school special life lesson...with a couple naughty bits thrown in to throw you off the scent.


message 12: by Chris (last edited May 18, 2010 06:03PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Chris Miller I've read The Tin Drum, which is why I posted the remark. I'm certain that I didn't read it with your level of observation, but I still think it's a reach to firmly believe the author of Cider House Rules is a plagiarist. I can respect your beliefs in your discovery, though. You are obviously very well read, and have a nose for authenticity. I can appreciate that. Cheers.


message 13: by Scott (new) - rated it 1 star

Scott Yes, sorry. I get worked up when I talk about this book. I view it as my nemesis, while for some reason it has yet to acknowledge my existence.


message 14: by Kathryn (new)

Kathryn I thought the scene when Owen Meany is carried out of the auditorium after doing the nativity play was worth the price of admission.


Melissa I've been trying to finish this book for the past two years. =/ Just can't get too into it for whatever reason.


message 16: by Diane (new) - rated it 1 star

Diane Rusty wrote: "You may not be alone in disliking it, but you are definitely in a very small minority. Tiny. So small it should lead you to question what it is about you and not the book that causes you to dislike..."

Books are very personal and it's definitely all about taste and style preferences, not agreeing with the masses. After decades of reading I know that not liking a book doesn't say anything important about the reader and that not liking it doesn't mean the book isn't excellent. A Nobel Prize winner may not be to my taste but reflects nothing about who I am. I hope no readers out there agree with your comment or waste any time worrying about it. It's just a book.


message 17: by Diane (new) - rated it 1 star

Diane Melissa wrote: "I've been trying to finish this book for the past two years. =/ Just can't get too into it for whatever reason."

Hi Melissa, I say don't waste your time. There are thousands of books out there for you to enjoy. Give it to someone who will love it :)


message 18: by Tina (new) - rated it 2 stars

Tina Trout I agree. Completely. Totally. I was beginning to think I was the only one that DIDN'T like this book!


message 19: by Mickey (new) - added it

Mickey Bell I am about 150 pages in. Does the main character ever stop talking about how hot his mom is? Does the story ever stop skipping around in time? I cant take it.


Michelle Hall I also would like to know what John Irving books you recommend? I had a love-hate relationship with this book but I am intrigued enough to read another


message 21: by Hello There! (last edited Jan 04, 2013 04:20AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Hello There! Michelle, I recommend The World According to Garp or The Hotel New Hampshire.


Michelle Hall Christy wrote: "Michelle, I recommend The World According to Garp or The Hotel New Hampshire."

Thank you, Christy!


Danyle Could not agree with this review more. I forced myself to read 3/4 of this book and finally came to terms with not wanting to finish... I also feel bad for the 2 stars because this is Irving we're talking about. Glad I didn't read the last 1/4


message 25: by Jo (new)

Jo Morgan Really? You recommend it for JC? How inappropriate is that? Atheist?


message 26: by Darlene (new)

Darlene Tak Glad I’m not alone.


Sandy I read all the four and five star reviews and thought I had to be missing something. Then I came to this one and realized I wasn’t alone. I fell in love with Cider House Rules and can’t believe these two books were by the same author.


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