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A Prayer for Owen Meany
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PAST Group Reads 2018 > A Prayer for Owen Meany- June 15-July 31- SPOILER THREAD

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message 1: by NancyJ, Moderator (last edited Jun 15, 2018 08:28AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

NancyJ (nancyjjj) | 1835 comments Mod
This is the SPOILER THREAD. If you didn't read the book yet, go back to the No Spoilers thread.

We will read this book from June 15- to August 1.

Enjoy!
------------------------

June 15, 2018 == Tammy will be facilitating this Group Read. Thank you Tammy!


Tammy Nancy put out feelers for anyone interested in facilitating The Prayer for Owen Meany discussion. I volunteered, but am not officially acting in that role because she hasn't confirmed it. That said, I am a huge fan of this novel and am looking very forward to sharing thoughts with other members in whatever capacity. Nancy, if you want to kick off in some other way, please feel free to delete and restart. I defer to you as the group mod!

John Irving has said that the first line of Owen Meany is his favorite out of all his books. (“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.") What do you think of that first line? Does the fact that the title and the first line indicate that the book will have religious themes bother you or make you wonder if the book can be enjoyed by non-Christian or non-religious readers?


message 3: by Parker (new)

Parker | 204 comments I do wonder that, Tammy. I'm not Christian, and reading fiction with overtly Christian themes irks me (those, like Outlander, where it's mentioned but not hammered home, don't bother me at all).


message 4: by NancyJ, Moderator (new) - rated it 4 stars

NancyJ (nancyjjj) | 1835 comments Mod
Hi Tammy. thank you for agreeing to facilitate. (It's official!)

Excellent question. Can you ask this in the other thread too? I'll come back to this spoiler thread after I've finished the book.

Yes I think it did put me off a little, because sometimes religious books (or people) can come across as too judgmental or not open to other views. But I'm ready for this now. I always think it's fascinating to see how people (and their thoughts and beliefs) change.


Tammy Parker, yes, I agree completely. I want to read for enjoyment, not get banged over the head by an author with an agenda. I don't know if it would surprise people or not, but John Irving is not religious. In fact, some of the inspiration for this book came from the question of what would it take for him to become a believer.


message 6: by Parker (new)

Parker | 204 comments Tammy wrote: "Parker, yes, I agree completely. I want to read for enjoyment, not get banged over the head by an author with an agenda. I don't know if it would surprise people or not, but John Irving is not reli..."

I'll probably try it anyway, as I've heard a lot of good things about it. Plus, it was mentioned in a cozy mystery series that I'm quite fond of. One of the main character's cats is named Owen because he kept sitting on the book.


message 7: by NancyJ, Moderator (new) - rated it 4 stars

NancyJ (nancyjjj) | 1835 comments Mod
Parker wrote: "Tammy wrote: "Parker, yes, I agree completely. I want to read for enjoyment, not get banged over the head by an author with an agenda. I don't know if it would surprise people or not, but John Irvi..."

I love it when the characters in a book are reading a book.


Tammy NancyJ wrote: "I love it when the characters in a book are reading a book."

Good, because there are a lot of allusions and homages to other books in Owen Meany for us to discuss!


Paula Tammy wrote: "Nancy put out feelers for anyone interested in facilitating The Prayer for Owen Meany discussion. I volunteered, but am not officially acting in that role because she hasn't confirmed it. That said..."

Quite often, I'm excited about a book right from the start because of the opening line. This particular one not only makes me want to keep reading (That's called the 'hook' in the literary world."), but it includes foreshadowing. Irving gave us information that makes me go "Wow, this Owen character must be pretty interesting. I want to know more about him."

In the Pulitzer winner for 2016, "The Sympathizer," the first line is intriguing: "I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces." Now I am curious about this man. And the writer using alliteration doesn't hurt either.

As far as the mention of the narrator, John Wheelright, being a Christian, I don't think this is a "bang you over the head" type of comment. The narrator is simply giving us more information about his friend, Owen, while telling us something about himself. In addition, whenever there is mention in the story of one of the various denominations, no one seems to be trying to convert anyone else. Owen has a particular distaste for one denomination, but his feelings are simply presented as something personal about him. None of this was intrusive for me.

This opening line is almost perfect because of what the author included. This book, in my opinion, is Irving at his best. Others are commendable, but this is the only one I've called a "repeater." Reading it with this group makes my third time through it. Only two other novels have done that for me. Happy reading!


message 10: by Erin (new) - rated it 5 stars

Erin (erin814) | 20 comments I appreciated what John Irving said about A Prayer for Owen Meany during the launch episode. Irving, an atheist, wrote a story of what would have to happen to him in order for him to become a believer. It's magical and thoughtful, really.

I have loved A Prayer for Owen Meany for years and hearing that made me love it so much more.


message 11: by Erin (new) - rated it 5 stars

Erin (erin814) | 20 comments I should have added that I am agnostic and this is my favorite book.


Tammy You all are echoing my thoughts. I've been reading this book every ten years for about 30 years. I love it. What is it about this book that resonates with you?


Tammy For those who have read the book, what do you think of John Wheelwright (as a character and as the narrator)?


message 14: by Erin (new) - rated it 5 stars

Erin (erin814) | 20 comments Poor Johnny Wheelwright; he never found himself. From beginning to end, he is insecure and living vicariously through Owen.


Tammy Erin wrote: "Poor Johnny Wheelwright; he never found himself. From beginning to end, he is insecure and living vicariously through Owen."

Yes, Erin, I think you are right. Johnny Wheelright seems to stop maturing/making forward progress through life around the time of his mother's death. It is Owen who gets him through school, keeps him out of the war, and finally gives him his faith. Even as an adult living in a different country, John is unable to move forward. He rants about US politics even though he hasn't lived there in years. He fails to become a real part of his new community because he is so deeply mired in the past. He is the most stunted character in the book (well...maybe aside from his dad).


message 16: by Erin (new) - rated it 5 stars

Erin (erin814) | 20 comments I think he only ever truly had faith in Owen.


Tammy Yes!!!


Tammy Was it fate or free will that led to the final scene in the airport? Were you expecting that outcome? How did you feel at the conclusion of the book?


Bonnie Parker wrote: "I do wonder that, Tammy. I'm not Christian, and reading fiction with overtly Christian themes irks me (those, like Outlander, where it's mentioned but not hammered home, don't bother me at all)."

I am a (liberal/not a bible literalist) Christian and really liked this book. I think if anything it addresses in a sad and funny way that just because people think God is talking to them and they know what he wants of everyone, they do.


Bonnie Tammy wrote: "You all are echoing my thoughts. I've been reading this book every ten years for about 30 years. I love it. What is it about this book that resonates with you?"

I think because I am a school psychologist and was a special education teacher, Owen having disabilities and the way the other children treated him resonated with me.


message 21: by Ella (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ella (ellamc) | 300 comments Ohhhh - I just finished this. Even knowing what was going to happen doesn't change the amazing path we take to get there.

As a col-lapsed raised-catholic agnostic (who has studied a few other religions in serious flirtations during my younger years,) I found this entirely acceptable from a non-Christian standpoint. I actually wondered if more fundamentalist Christians may have some issues that I didn't.

Another thing that struck me over the head in the final chapter was that literally every single thing in this sprawling book was there for a reason. Early on I wondered about some of the wandering ideas or strange happenings or just little quirky things (why are they left in?) Well, he must have had an incredibly huge white-board going to tie up all those seemingly inconsequential details.

I LOVED THIS BOOK! It's so smart, and endearing and lovely and it's about friendship - which we all need more of. Yay for John and Owen and Mr Irving.


Tammy Ella, I'm so happy you loved it! I agree that every detail in the book is there for a reason and I love books that make you think about the details.

Irving does hit the reader over the head with a ton of foreshadowing leading up to Owen's fated end (Watahantowet's totem, the dress maker's dummy, the declawed armadillo, the Magdalene statue...and let's not forget the amputations). Owen is obsessed with these images and with fulfilling his destiny. He is powerless when it comes to his fate. It is all in the hands of God. Did you all think the foreshadowing/symbolism was too heavy handed (forgive me...I can not help myself) or that it enhanced the story?

Irving also pays homages to a ton of books and authors he loves. The Tin Drum by Gunter Grass has a main character named Oskar Matzerath who decides to stop growing around the age of 4 and can shatter glass with his voice (and oh boy howdy there are a ton of religious symbols and a war going on in that one, too). The Fifth Business by Robertson Davies features a character killed by a snowball. John Wheelwright talks about teaching Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles to his prep school girls, which is a pretty epic story about fate versus free will. And of course there is Dickens. Obviously A Christmas Carol plays a big role in the book, but from Irving's descriptive writing style to his quirky naming of characters, he gives his nod to the master. My favorite parallels in the book are to the Bible. Owen is the Christ figure, John as the disciple/gospel writer, Owen's parents as Mary and Joseph, Hester as Mary Magdalene (I prefer her in that role to Tabby). I'm pretty sure I could go on, but it has been a year since I read it the last time.

You could dive into this book all day. How about the fact that every time sports are taking place in the book, somebody (or a dog) dies. And the political tirades...and the war...and we haven't even mentioned the main character's sexuality. What is up with all that? Every little detail was planned and thought out with care. Somehow, even with all the intricate webbing of allusions, symbolism, and weighty topical themes, the book feels like it is about friendship, and loss, and the inability for our main character to ever untangle himself or move forward. I find the end to be tragic, not so much because of Owen, but because of John who has become embittered and so very all alone.


message 23: by Ella (last edited Jun 23, 2018 08:07PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ella (ellamc) | 300 comments I can go on, but I'm going to try not to do too much right now so we can keep talking and I can go back and read all my notes etc. But thank you SO much. I saw the Tin Drum reference (or thought I did) fairly early, but I couldn't remember the book with the snowball death -- The Fifth Business by Robertson Davies! Thank you so much. It was driving me crazy, and let me tell you "book snowball death" is not a good google search string. (After kids' books, I kept getting Animal Farm, which I knew about already and that wasn't what I was looking for - how weird that snowball and "kill" or "death" brings up pages of books for children?)

I didn't think the foreshadowing was too much (I resisted! But that was hilarious.) Mostly because he puts it all out there -- the whole plot (minus all the details) right at the first sentence. Irving really does tell the whole story in that sentence - amazing. And as he circles round and round, showing more and more of the picture, it just made me want to keep reading.

Interestingly, I read a snippet of an interview with him that I think may be on my audiobook (so I'll have to check that out. I mostly read it b/c the audio was way too slow. But it's great for the funny scenes.) Anyway, in the interview, he said that some reviewers fell into the trap of thinking this was a book about a deserter who flees to Canada and Owen, who was killed in Viet Nam. Which is exactly what I imagined would happen, but of course, it doesn't.

I thought that was perfect (I have a pet peeve for professional book reviewers who read too quickly to "get" some books - there are books that don't lend themselves to a quick and dirty once-over.) This book is very clear and doesn't require tons of research to understand, though. You just have to read the whole thing! Amazing. Irving said he didn't do it to trick reviewers (I believe him - that would be insane, more insane than John Irving is.) But he did actually trick them, and that's great.

Later, after I get through going through the whole book (which mentions also Orwell and 1984, which I just reread for some group I'm in as well as so many other great books, either directly mentioned or alluded to) I am interested in exploring why Irving is so drawn to some themes - specifically death of innocence/childhood and the interesting mother/son bonds. But I've not read everything he's written, so I don't know.

OK, I'll come back and chat more tomorrow. I was forcing myself to stay up until now, but sleep is calling. (And I'm so old and boring. It's Saturday night and all I want to do is sleep.)

BTW, if anyone who's read the book can get their hands on the recording of it, the scenes where they plan the pageant and Owen takes over are priceless to have read aloud to you. I listened to them again (so listened twice and read twice so far) and I cannot stop laughing. It's great.

I have a TON to say about John's sexuality and really everyone's life in this book, but I'll return after sleep.


message 24: by Ella (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ella (ellamc) | 300 comments PS - I have no idea if we're to imagine that Owen really is a prophet or if it any of this really happened or what the alternative to reality might be, but this is a loaded book when it comes to biblical allusions, even down to Jesus/Owen having their own version of the text. Lots to unpack in what seemed like it might be a straightforward story at once point.


Tammy This book had me in stitches. I'd love to listen to the audio version. How in the heck did they manage The Voice? Oh, and I love the all caps on Owen*s dialogie

I don't think it matters to the story whether or not Owen was a prophet. I think it is John's POV that matters. His belief in Owen's miracle is similar to the way that his dad's faith is restored by the phony miracle he witnesses. But John is doomed to believe in a god that sacrificed his friend and I think he has a pretty hard time forgiving that.

Goodnight, Ella. I look forward to hearing more from you!


message 26: by Lynn (new) - rated it 1 star

Lynn I am really struggling with this book. He rambles so long I lose track about what going on. I am 200 pages into it. Does it get better?A Prayer for Owen Meany


message 27: by Ella (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ella (ellamc) | 300 comments Lynn wrote: "I am really struggling with this book. He rambles so long I lose track about what going on. I am 200 pages into it. Does it get better?A Prayer for Owen Meany"

Hi Lynn,

I wondered, through many pages, why someone hadn't taken a good red pen edit to this book, but (I'm assuming you didn't read the thread, since this one has spoilers -- there's a non-spoiler thread up if you'd prefer to preserve your suspense.) Anyway, but as I said above, one of the best things for me was learning in the final chapter (and a couple before that in smaller ways) that every single little extraneous detail is important. The more you can note the details (make a list of "weird stuff" or something, if you're on an ebook, highlight, etc) the more you'll notice at the end how many of those strange tangential things weren't tangential at all.

I wish I'd have done that, but I didn't. Still, even without many notes, I was shocked at all the details that seemed pointless or just extra ended up being important and rather amazingly tied up.

This book, as noted above, has a lot of allusions to other literature, but I do believe the Bible or other religious texts are the best example of these seemingly harmless details that end up being integral to the story at the end.

Now, whether you want to get there is another story. I found myself getting more and more interested as the kids went to their new school (and Owen starts to really come into his own annoying prophetic self.) I can't really tell you how many more pages that is, but once they're heading off to a new school, things do pick up.

Hope that helps - and maybe there's some support in the other thread for those who are struggling? Not sure, but worth a check.


Tammy Lynn, I am sorry to hear you are struggling. I learned from my book club that many people found the Dickensian style to be difficult to get through. It's heavy on description, repetition, and detail. Characters range from comic to overly sentimental. It pretty much continues on in the same style but the details are all there for a reason. If you aren't feeling it now, you might not enjoy the rest. But hey, even if you DNF you gave it a try! We wont fault you for it!


message 29: by Sue (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sue K H (sky_bluez) | 68 comments Tammy wrote: "Lynn, I am sorry to hear you are struggling. I learned from my book club that many people found the Dickensian style to be difficult to get through. It's heavy on description, repetition, and detai..."

I love the Dickensian style of this. I love Dickens and I think I'm going to be a big Irving fan if the rest of his books are like this.

I agree that if someone is 200 pages in and doesn't like it, they probably never will and that there is no shame in DNFing.


Tammy I would recommend The World According to Garp and Cider House Rules as the best ones to read next, Sue. I've been reading his books since the 80's and I think Owen, Garp, and Cider House are Irving at his best.


message 31: by Sue (new) - rated it 5 stars

Sue K H (sky_bluez) | 68 comments Tammy wrote: "Parker, yes, I agree completely. I want to read for enjoyment, not get banged over the head by an author with an agenda. I don't know if it would surprise people or not, but John Irving is not reli..."

I agree Tammy, I don't like to get banged over the head with any agenda in my literature either. Even if I agree with the politics or or the religion. I feel that it cheapens the work and makes it less artistic when you are overtly trying to convert someone. I didn't think the politics or the religion here were meant to evangelize. They were a part of the gloriously in-depth character studies of John and Owen.


message 32: by NancyJ, Moderator (last edited Jul 21, 2018 08:10AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

NancyJ (nancyjjj) | 1835 comments Mod
Ella wrote: "Ohhhh - I just finished this. Even knowing what was going to happen doesn't change the amazing path we take to get there.

Another thing that struck me over the head in the final chapter was that literally every single thing in this sprawling book was there for a reason. Early on I wondered about some of the wandering ideas or strange happenings or just little quirky things (why are they left in?) Well, he must have had an incredibly huge white-board going to tie up all those seemingly inconsequential details.

"


Excellent - that's exactly what I was wondering. Do all the details matter? I have to take a break from the book now due to migraine type headaches. I can read large prints for short periods of time, but I get spots in my field of vision that make it hard to read smaller fonts. I liked the audio at first, but Owen's voice is unbearable to me right now. Even reading the book, when I see his words in caps, I HEAR his voice in my head (and it's very loud).


message 33: by NancyJ, Moderator (last edited Jul 21, 2018 03:36PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

NancyJ (nancyjjj) | 1835 comments Mod
Edited
Spoilers ahead

OK! I finally finished. I had to put it aside for a couple weeks and finish other books, but I'm glad I came back to it. Overall it was a worthwhile book. If it wasn't for the enthusiasm you all showed, I might have let it slide, and that would have been my loss. I know that I will probably never forget this book.

There were some great moments in the book, but right now I'm feeling more sadness. More for John than for Owen. Owen seemed to live more in his short life, than John ever did, and he died feeling that he served a higher purpose. He was of use. Though I shouldn't devalue how John spent his life. I think being a teacher is very fulfilling. John was always a more low key guy. Owen was a natural leader.

At first I was a little apprehensive about the religion in the book. I was concerned it might be too preachy or proselytizing, but it wasn't. The discussions of religions were often simply descriptive (and a little boring) and at times irreverent. I was a little disappointed actually that I didn't get a more spiritual feeling from the book. Having a vision of the future (particularly of a headstone or death) is something that many religious people have historically attributed to witchcraft, not God.

While John says Owen is the reason he became a christian, I didn't see much of a change between the young John and adult John (in Toronto). As an adult he is obsessed with US News, but I don't recall seeing him praying for peace in Nicaragua or anyplace else. Or did I miss it? It's too bad the Internet wasn't strong back then, or John might have had more fun talking to people with similar views. Instead he views his desire to read the news as a shameful addiction. (Now that I think about it, shame is a part of many religions.)

I liked the ending a lot, though it was somewhat anticlimactic. There was so much foreshadowing and repetition that it was easy to predict that the basketball was a proxy for an explosive device. With such a buildup, I imagined that the scope of the heroic act would be much bigger somehow.

I would wish a happier life for John. It seemed like he was turning into his grandmother. I feel sad that he doesn't have more close relationships, and some sort of romantic life. Everyone seems to assume he's suppressing homosexual (or even more inappropriate) desires. I guess that's one explanation for why he hasn't pursued romantic relationships with women. He expressed more lustful feelings for Hester than anyone else, but he was closest to Owen. Is "bromance" the same as homoeroticism? What else might cause someone to be asexual? Low testosterone, fear, poor social skills, poor body image, extreme introversion?

I think I will want to reread this book someday. Knowing the ending (and the big picture) could provide a greater appreciation for how all the details work together. It could create more "aha" moments.


message 34: by aPriL does feral sometimes (last edited Jul 22, 2018 11:22AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

aPriL does feral sometimes  (cheshirescratch) Tammy wrote: "I would recommend The World According to Garp and Cider House Rules as the best ones to read next, Sue. I've been reading his books since the 80's and I think Owen, Garp, and Cider House are Irving..."

Completely agree, except I hated Owen.


message 35: by NancyJ, Moderator (new) - rated it 4 stars

NancyJ (nancyjjj) | 1835 comments Mod
Tammy wrote: "
Did you all think the foreshadowing/symbolism was too heavy handed (forgive me...I can not help myself) or that it enhanced the story? .."


Ah, I get that now! (I first read your post when I was only half way through and I didn't get the joke.)

Yes, the foreshadowing about the hands was too much, but mainly because I thought the hand thing just wasn't worthy of that much time and attention compared to other ideas that he might have focused on. Fate and faith were more interesting. But it was sort of interesting to think about how Owen's vision affected his behavior. I still don't quite get why he destroyed the statue, but at least I understand why he chopped off her hands. It doesn't make sense to me in relation to the Owen/Jesus connection. Maybe I missed something about why he blamed Mary for anything. (I know about his mother, but it still seems excessive.) I probably
missed some of the bible references.

I did enjoy the discussion about foreshadowing in Tess of the D'Urbevilles, and the concept of fate. If I reread Tess, I'll have to pay attention to that. I actually found that instructive. (Though I don't think I'll reread it. It took a lot out of me the first time. Fate's a bitch.)

When Johnny kept repeating what he told his students, Irving was telling us to reread the beginning of his book too. He was like an excited little boy saying "Look, look! Can you see what I did there? Can you tell what's going to happen? Aren't I a smart boy?" It felt like he was either bragging, or making fun of himself. Either way, I found it funny. I'll bet that he was teaching a writing class while he was writing or planning this book. In his search for examples of foreshadowing to give his students, it got his mind working on the problem (and it never quite let go).


Bonnie I generally miss or ignore foreshadowing to be honest. The only time I like it in a book is when it is about characters and other characters opinions of them.


message 37: by NancyJ, Moderator (new) - rated it 4 stars

NancyJ (nancyjjj) | 1835 comments Mod
Ella's sick I think and I think she had more to say about John's sexuality or rather his asexuality. I could never quite understand why catholic priests were required to be abstinent, but I wonder if John's abstinence from sex was for a similar reason.

Owen talked so much about Easter and the resurrection, I half expected him to resurrected at the end!

What do you all think about Owen's weightlessness? I remember thinking that was unrealistic at the beginning. Even most toddlers would be too heavy for the kids to pass him around above their heads.


aPriL does feral sometimes  (cheshirescratch) John Irving is an agnostic who dislikes organized religion.

https://www.pdxmonthly.com/articles/2...

He once described himself as asexual in another interview quite awhile ago.


aPriL does feral sometimes  (cheshirescratch) Personally, given Irving’s dislike of organized religion, I thought when I first read this that Owen’s weightlessness was a satiric symbol, like in there is nothing there there. It was one of the things that had me hoping for a more satiric or humorous or light-touch symbolic novel.


message 40: by NancyJ, Moderator (new) - rated it 4 stars

NancyJ (nancyjjj) | 1835 comments Mod
Great discussion!

Thank you Tammy for facilitating this group read. Great job!

We'll keep this thread open for continued discussion, so if you're still reading you can still add notes late. It will stay here until August 1 (or a few days longer if needed) and then will move to the Past Reads folder.


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