Item description for A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving...
Overview While playing baseball in the summer of 1953, Owen Meany hits a foul ball that kills his best friend's mother, and he becomes convinced that he is an instrument of God, in a new edition of Irving's seventh novel, featuring a new introduction by the author. 20,000 first printing.
Publishers Description In the summer of 1953, two eleven-year-old boys—best friends—are playing in a Little League baseball game in Gravesend, New Hampshire. One of the boys hits a foul ball that kills the other boy's mother. The boy who hits the ball doesn't believe in accidents; Owen Meany believes he is God's instrument. What happens to Owen, after that 1953 foul ball, is extraordinary and terrifying.
A Prayer for Owen Meany was first published in 1989. This Modern Library edition includes a new Introduction by the author.
“John Irving, who writes novels in the unglamorous but effective way Babe Ruth used to hit home runs, deserves a medal not only for writing this book but for the way he has written it. . . . A Prayer for Owen Meany is a rare creation in the somehow exhausted world of late twentieth-century fiction—it is an amazingly brave piece of work . . . so extraordinary, so original, and so enriching. . . . Readers will come to the end feeling sorry to leave [this] richly textured and carefully wrought world.” —Stephen King
John Irving published his first novel at the age of twenty-six. He has received awards from the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation; he has won an O. Henry Award, a National Book Award, and an Oscar.
In 1992, Mr. Irving was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Oklahoma. In January 2001, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
1. Though he's portrayed as an instrument of God, Owen Meany causes the death of John's mother. What other deaths was Owen indirectly involved with? Do you find Owen's close relationship with death to support or undermine his miraculous purpose?
2. Owen speaks and writes in capital letters, emphasizing the potency of his strange voice. At the academy, he is even referred to as the Voice. Why is Owen's voice so important? What other occasions can you think of in which Owen's voice played an especially mean-ingful role?
3. Reverend Merrill always speaks of faith in tandem with doubt. Do you believe that one can exist without the other or that one strengthens the other? Was your opinion about Merrill's views on faith and doubt affected by the revelation of his relationship to John Wheelwright?
4. Merrill experiences a bogus miracle and resurgence of faith when John stages his mother's dressmaker dummy outside the church. Later, John's involvement in Owen's rescue of the Vietnamese chil-dren spurs John's own faith: "I am a Christian because of Owen Meany," he says. Do you think the genuineness of Owen's miracle makes the birth of John's faith more valid than the faith engendered by Merrill's bogus miracle?
5. The Meanys claim that, like Jesus, Owen was the product of a vir-gin birth. Owen dislikes the Catholic Church for turning away his parents, but Owen himself makes the Meanys leave the Christmas Pageant. Name other instances when Owen's feelings toward his family seem conflicted. Do you think Owen ever considers himself Christlike?
6. An observer necessary to the Christmas Pageant but seldom an ac-tive participant, John plays Joseph to Owen's baby Jesus. John refers to himself on other occasions as "just a Joseph." Do you see John's role as Joseph-like throughout the story? Are there other biblical characters with whom you identify John?
7. Did Irving's references to the armless Indian and the pawless armadillo prepare you for Owen's sacrifice? What other clues did Irving give about Owen's final heroic scene?
8. Throughout the novel, John gives hints to the forthcoming action, adding, "As you shall see." Did you find this to be an effective way to keep you reading and engaged in the story?
9. Owen Meany taught John that "Any good book is always in motion--from the general to the specific, from the particular to the whole and back again." Do you think Irving followed his own recipe for a good book? Supply examples in support of your position.
10. Given John's dislike of Gravesend Academy, which expelled Owen, did you find it interesting that John later taught at an academy in Toronto? In what other ways does John, as an adult, embrace issues or events that he was indifferent or hostile to as an adolescent?
11. John assists Owen in rescuing the children, but John always plays the supporting part in Owen's adventures. Based on the scenes in Toronto in the 1980s, do you think John ever escaped his support-ing role? How do you think John's retained virginity reflects on his sense of self?
12. Did your feelings about the U.S. involvement in Vietnam change after reading Irving's portrayal of the peace movement, the draft dodgers, and Owen's involvement in the army? Were you surprised by Owen's efforts to get to Vietnam?
13. John's reactions to and obsession with the Iran-Contra affair of the 1980s reflect his position as neither a true Canadian nor a true American. Do you think that non-Americans have a clearer vision of the machinations and deceptions within American politics? What did John's focus on American politics tell you about his adult character?
14. Irving frequently foreshadows tragedy; for example, hailstones hit John's mother on the head during her wedding day, providing a glimpse of her later death by a baseball. What other events does Irving foreshadow?
15. Several reviews call A Prayer for Owen Meany "Dickensian," and Irving himself incorporates scenes from Dickens in the story. In what ways does Irving's writing remind you of Dickens's? What other writers would you compare Irving to?
From the Trade Paperback edition. 1 The Foul Ball
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. I make no claims to have a life in Christ, or with Christ—and certainly not for Christ, which I've heard some zealots claim. I'm not very sophisticated in my knowledge of the Old Testament, and I've not read the New Testament since my Sunday school days, except for those passages that I hear read aloud to me when I go to church. I'm somewhat more familiar with the passages from the Bible that appear in The Book of Common Prayer; I read my prayer book often, and my Bible only on holy days—the prayer book is so much more orderly.
I've always been a pretty regular churchgoer. I used to be a Congregationalist—I was baptized in the Congregational Church, and after some years of fraternity with Episcopalians (I was confirmed in the Episcopal Church, too), I became rather vague in my religion: in my teens I attended a “nondenominational” church. Then I became an Anglican; the Anglican Church of Canada has been my church—ever since I left the United States, about twenty years ago. Being an Anglican is a lot like being an Episcopalian—so much so that being an Anglican occasionally impresses upon me the suspicion that I have simply become an Episcopalian again. Anyway, I left the Congregationalists and the Episcopalians—and my country once and for all.
When I die, I shall attempt to be buried in New Hampshire—alongside my mother—but the Anglican Church will perform the necessary service before my body suffers the indignity of trying to be sneaked through U.S. Customs. My selections from the Order for the Burial of the Dead are entirely conventional and can be found, in the order that I shall have them read—not sung—in The Book of Common Prayer. Almost everyone I know will be familiar with the passage from John, beginning with “. . . whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” And then there's “. . . in my Father's house are many mansions: If it were not so, I would have told you.” And I have always appreciated the frankness expressed in that passage from Timothy, the one that goes “. . . we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.” It will be a by-the-book Anglican service, the kind that would make my former fellow Congregationalists fidget in their pews. I am an Anglican now, and I shall die an Anglican. But I skip a Sunday service now and then; I make no claims to be especially pious; I have a church-rummage faith—the kind that needs patching up every weekend. What faith I have I owe to Owen Meany, a boy I grew up with. It is Owen who made me a believer.
In Sunday school, we developed a form of entertainment based on abusing Owen Meany, who was so small that not only did his feet not touch the floor when he sat in his chair—his knees did not extend to the edge of his seat; therefore, his legs stuck out straight, like the legs of a doll. It was as if Owen Meany had been born without realistic joints.
Owen was so tiny, we loved to pick him up; in truth, we couldn't resist picking him up. We thought it was a miracle: how little he weighed. This was also incongruous because Owen came from a family in the granite business. The Meany Granite Quarry was a big place, the equipment for blasting and cutting the granite slabs was heavy and dangerous-looking; granite itself is such a rough, substantial rock. But the only aura of the granite quarry that clung to Owen was the granular dust, the gray powder that sprang off his clothes whenever we lifted him up. He was the color of a gravestone; light was both absorbed and reflected by his skin, as with a pearl, so that he appeared translucent at times—especially at his temples, where his blue veins showed through his skin (as though, in addition to his extraordinary size, there were other evidence that he was born too soon).
His vocal cords had not developed fully, or else his voice had been injured by the rock dust of his family's business. Maybe he had larynx damage, or a destroyed trachea; maybe he'd been hit in the throat by a chunk of granite. To be heard at all, Owen had to shout through his nose.
Yet he was dear to us—“a little doll,” the girls called him, while he squirmed to get away from them; and from all of us.
I don't remember how our game of lifting Owen began.
This was Christ Church, the Episcopal Church of Gravesend, New Hampshire. Our Sunday school teacher was a strained, unhappy-looking woman named Mrs. Walker. We thought this name suited her because her method of teaching involved a lot of walking out of class. Mrs. Walker would read us an instructive passage from the Bible. She would then ask us to think seriously about what we had heard—“Silently and seriously, that's how I want you to think!” she would say. “I'm going to leave you alone with your thoughts, now,” she would tell us ominously—as if our thoughts were capable of driving us over the edge. “I want you to think very hard,” Mrs. Walker would say. Then she'd walk out on us. I think she was a smoker, and she couldn't allow herself to smoke in front of us. “When I come back,” she'd say, “we'll talk about it.”
By the time she came back, of course, we'd forgotten everything about whatever it was—because as soon as she left the room, we would fool around with a frenzy. Because being alone with our thoughts was no fun, we would pick up Owen Meany and pass him back and forth, overhead. We managed this while remaining seated in our chairs—that was the challenge of the game. Someone—I forget who started it—would get up, seize Owen, sit back down with him, pass him to the next person, who would pass him on, and so forth. The girls were included in this game; some of the girls were the most enthusiastic about it. Everyone could lift up Owen. We were very careful; we never dropped him. His shirt might become a little rumpled. His necktie was so long, Owen tucked it into his trousers—or else it would have hung to his knees—and his necktie often came untucked; sometimes his change would fall out (in our faces). We always gave him his money back.
If he had his baseball cards with him, they, too, would fall out of his pockets. This made him cross because the cards were alphabetized, or ordered under another system—all the infielders together, maybe. We didn't know what the system was, but obviously Owen had a system, because when Mrs. Walker came back to the room—when Owen returned to his chair and we passed his nickels and dimes and his baseball cards back to him—he would sit shuffling through the cards with a grim, silent fury.
He was not a good baseball player, but he did have a very small strike zone and as a consequence he was often used as a pinch hitter—not because he ever hit the ball with any authority (in fact, he was instructed never to swing at the ball), but because he could be relied upon to earn a walk, a base on balls. In Little League games he resented this exploitation and once refused to come to bat unless he was allowed to swing at the pitches. But there was no bat small enough for him to swing that didn't hurl his tiny body after it—that didn't thump him on the back and knock him out of the batter's box and flat upon the ground. So, after the humiliation of swinging at a few pitches, and missing them, and whacking himself off his feet, Owen Meany selected that other humiliation of standing motionless and crouched at home plate while the pitcher aimed the ball at Owen's strike zone—and missed it, almost every time.
Yet Owen loved his baseball cards—and, for some reason, he clearly loved the game of baseball itself, although the game was cruel to him. Opposing pitchers would threaten him. They'd tell him that if he didn't swing at their pitches, they'd hit him with the ball. “Your head's bigger than your strike zone, pal,” one pitcher told him. So Owen Meany made his way to first base after being struck by pitches, too.
Once on base, he was a star. No one could run the bases like Owen. If our team could stay at bat long enough, Owen Meany could steal home. He was used as a pinch runner in the late innings, too; pinch runner and pinch hitter Meany—pinch walker Meany, we called him. In the field, he was hopeless. He was afraid of the ball; he shut his eyes when it came anywhere near him. And if by some miracle he managed to catch it, he couldn't throw it; his hand was too small to get a good grip. But he was no ordinary complainer; if he was self-pitying, his voice was so original in its expression of complaint that he managed to make whining lovable.
In Sunday school, when we held Owen up in the air—especially, in the air!—he protested so uniquely. We tortured him, I think, in order to hear his voice; I used to think his voice came from another planet. Now I'm convinced it was a voice not entirely of this world.
“PUT ME DOWN!” he would say in a strangled, emphatic falsetto. “CUT IT OUT! I DON'T WANT TO DO THIS ANYMORE. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. PUT ME DOWN! YOU ASSHOLES!”
But we just passed him around and around. He grew more fatalistic about it, each time. His body was rigid; he wouldn't struggle. Once we had him in the air, he folded his arms defiantly on his chest; he scowled at the ceiling. Sometimes Owen grabbed hold of his chair the instant Mrs. Walker left the room; he'd cling like a bird to a swing in its cage, but he was easy to dislodge because he was ticklish. A girl named Sukey Swift was especially deft at tickling Owen; instantly, his arms and legs would stick straight out and we'd have him up in the air again.
“NO TICKLING!” he'd say, but the rules to this game were our rules. We never listened to Owen.
Inevitably, Mrs. Walker would return to the room when Owen was in the air. Given the biblical nature of her instructions to us: “to think very hard . . .” she might have imagined that by a supreme act of our combined and hardest thoughts we had succeeded in levitating Owen Meany. She might have had the wit to suspect that Owen was reaching toward heaven as a direct result of leaving us alone with our thoughts.
But Mrs. Walker's response was always the same—brutish and unimaginative and incredibly dense. “Owen!” she would snap. “Owen Meany, you get back to your seat! You get down from up there!”
What could Mrs. Walker teach us about the Bible if she was stupid enough to think that Owen Meany had put himself up in the air?
Owen was always dignified about it. He never said, “THEY DID IT! THEY ALWAYS DO IT! THEY PICK ME UP AND LOSE MY MONEY AND MESS UP MY BASEBALL CARDS—AND THEY NEVER PUT ME DOWN WHEN I ASK THEM TO! WHAT DO YOU THINK, THAT I FLEW UP HERE?”
But although Owen would complain to us, he would never complain about us. If he was occasionally capable of being a stoic in the air, he was always a stoic when Mrs. Walker accused him of childish behavior. He would never accuse us. Owen was no rat. As vividly as any number of the stories in the Bible, Owen Meany showed us what a martyr was.
It appeared there were no hard feelings. Although we saved our most ritualized attacks on him for Sunday school, we also lifted him up at other times—more spontaneously. Once someone hooked him by his collar to a coat tree in the elementary-school auditorium; even then, even there, Owen didn't struggle. He dangled silently, and waited for someone to unhook him and put him down. And after gym class, someone hung him in his locker and shut the door. “NOT FUNNY! NOT FUNNY!” he called, and called, until someone must have agreed with him and freed him from the company of his jockstrap—the size of a slingshot.
How could I have known that Owen was a hero?
Let me say at the outset that I was a Wheelwright—that was the family name that counted in our town: the Wheelwrights. And Wheelwrights were not inclined toward sympathy to Meanys. We were a matriarchal family because my grandfather died when he was a young man and left my grandmother to carry on, which she managed rather grandly. I am descended from John Adams on my grandmother's side (her maiden name was Bates, and her family came to America on the Mayflower); yet, in our town, it was my grandfather's name that had the clout, and my grandmother wielded her married name with such a sure sense of self-possession that she might as well have been a Wheelwright and an Adams and a Bates.
Her Christian name was Harriet, but she was Mrs. Wheelwright to almost everyone—certainly to everyone in Owen Meany's family. I think that Grandmother's final vision of anyone named Meany would have been George Meany—the labor man, the cigar smoker. The combination of unions and cigars did not sit well with Harriet Wheelwright. (To my knowledge, George Meany is not related to the Meany family from my town.)
I grew up in Gravesend, New Hampshire; we didn't have any unions there—a few cigar smokers, but no union men. The town where I was born was purchased from an Indian sagamore in 1638 by the Rev. John Wheelwright, after whom I was named. In New England, the Indian chiefs and higher-ups were called sagamores; although, by the time I was a boy, the only sagamore I knew was a neighbor's dog—a male Labrador retriever named Sagamore (not, I think, for his Indian ancestry but because of his owner's ignorance). Sagamore's owner, our neighbor, Mr. Fish, always told me that his dog was named for a lake where he spent his summers swimming—“when I was a youth,” Mr. Fish would say. Poor Mr. Fish: he didn't know that the lake was named after Indian chiefs and higher-ups—and that naming a stupid Labrador retriever “Sagamore” was certain to cause some unholy offense. As you shall see, it did.
But Americans are not great historians, and so, for years—educated by my neighbor—I thought that sagamore was an Indian word for lake. The canine Sagamore was killed by a diaper truck, and I now believe that the gods of those troubled waters of that much-abused lake were responsible. It would be a better story, I think, if Mr. Fish had been killed by the diaper truck—but every study of the gods, of everyone's gods, is a revelation of vengeance toward the innocent. (This is a part of my particular faith that meets with opposition from my Congregationalist and Episcopalian and Anglican friends.)
As for my ancestor John Wheelwright, he landed in Boston in 1636, only two years before he bought our town. He was from Lincolnshire, England—the hamlet of Saleby—and nobody knows why he named our town Gravesend. He had no known contact with the British Gravesend, although that is surely where the name of our town came from. Wheelwright was a Cambridge graduate; he'd played foot- ball with Oliver Cromwell—whose estimation of Wheelwright (as a football player) was both worshipful and paranoid. Oliver Cromwell believed that Wheelwright was a vicious, even a dirty player, who had perfected the art of tripping his opponents and then falling on them. Gravesend (the British Gravesend) is in Kent—a fair distance from Wheelwright's stamping ground. Perhaps he had a friend from there—maybe it was a friend who had wanted to make the trip to America with Wheelwright, but who hadn't been able to leave England, or had died on the voyage.
According to Wall's History of Gravesend, N.H., the Rev. John Wheelwright had been a good minister of the English church until he began to “question the authority of certain dogmas”; he became a Puritan, and was thereafter “silenced by the ecclesiastical powers, for nonconformity.” I feel that my own religious confusion, and stubbornness, owe much to my ancestor, who suffered not only the criticisms of the English church before he left for the new world; once he arrived, he ran afoul of his fellow Puritans in Boston. Together with the famous Mrs. Hutchinson, the Rev. Mr. Wheelwright was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for disturbing “the civil peace”; in truth, he did nothing more seditious than offer some heterodox opinions regarding the location of the Holy Ghost—but Massachusetts judged him harshly. He was deprived of his weapons; and with his family and several of his bravest adherents, he sailed north from Boston to Great Bay, where he must have passed by two earlier New Hampshire outposts—what was then called Strawbery Banke, at the mouth of the Pascataqua (now Portsmouth), and the settlement in Dover.
Wheelwright followed the Squamscott River out of Great Bay; he went as far as the falls where the freshwater river met the saltwater river. The forest would have been dense then; the Indians would have showed him how good the fishing was. According to Wall's History of Gravesend, there were “tracts of natural meadow” and “marshes bordering upon the tidewater.”
The local sagamore's name was Watahantowet; instead of his signature, he made his mark upon the deed in the form of his totem—an armless man. Later, there was some dispute—not very interesting—regarding the Indian deed, and more interesting speculation regarding why Watahantowet's totem was an armless man. Some said it was how it made the sagamore feel to give up all that land—to have his arms cut off—and others pointed out that earlier “marks” made by Watahantowet revealed that the figure, although armless, held a feather in his mouth; this was said to indicate the sagamore's frustration at being unable to write. But in several other versions of the totem ascribed to Watahantowet, the figure has a tomahawk in its mouth and looks completely crazy—or else, he is making a gesture toward peace: no arms, tomahawk in mouth; together, perhaps, they are meant to signify that Watahantowet does not fight. As for the settlement of the disputed deed, you can be sure the Indians were not the beneficiaries of the resolution to that difference of opinion.
And later still, our town fell under Massachusetts authority—which may, to this day, explain why residents of Gravesend detest people from Massachusetts. Mr. Wheelwright would move to Maine. He was eighty when he spoke at Harvard, seeking contributions to rebuild a part of the college destroyed by a fire—demonstrating that he bore the citizens of Massachusetts less of a grudge than anyone else from Gravesend would bear them. Wheelwright died in Salisbury, Massachusetts, where he was the spiritual leader of the church, when he was almost ninety.
But listen to the names of Gravesend's founding fathers: you will not hear a Meany among them.
I doubt it's because she was a Wheelwright that my mother never gave up her maiden name; I think my mother's pride was independent of her Wheelwright ancestry, and that she would have kept her maiden name if she'd been born a Meany. And I never suffered in those years that I had her name; I was little Johnny Wheelwright, father unknown, and—at the time—that was okay with me. I never complained. One day, I always thought, she would tell me about it—when I was old enough to know the story. It was, apparently, the kind of story you had to be “old enough” to hear. It wasn't until she died—without a word to me concerning who my father was—that I felt I'd been cheated out of information I had a right to know; it was only after her death that I felt the slightest anger toward her. Even if my father's identity and his story were painful to my mother—even if their relationship had been so sordid that any revelation of it would shed a continuous, unfavorable light upon both my parents—wasn't my mother being selfish not to tell me anything about my father?
Of course, as Owen Meany pointed out to me, I was only eleven when she died, and my mother was only thirty; she probably thought she had a lot of time left to tell me the story. She didn't know she was going to die, as Owen Meany put it.
Owen and I were throwing rocks in the Squamscott, the saltwater river, the tidal river—or, rather, I was throwing rocks in the river; Owen's rocks were landing in the mud flats because the tide was out and the water was too far away for Owen Meany's little, weak arm. Our throwing had disturbed the herring gulls who'd been pecking in the mud, and the gulls had moved into the marsh grass on the opposite shore of the Squamscott.
It was a hot, muggy, summer day; the low-tide smell of the mud flats was more brinish and morbid than usual. Owen Meany told me that my father would know that my mother was dead, and that—when I was old enough—he would identify himself to me.
“If he's alive,” I said, still throwing rocks. “If he's alive and if he cares that he's my father—if he even knows he's my father.”
And although I didn't believe him that day, that was the day Owen Meany began his lengthy contribution to my belief in God. Owen was throwing smaller and smaller rocks, but he still couldn't reach the water; there was a certain small satisfaction to the sound the rocks made when they struck the mud flats, but the water was more satisfying than the mud in every way. And almost casually, with a confidence that stood in surprising and unreasonable juxtaposition to his tiny size, Owen Meany told me that he was sure my father was alive, that he was sure my father knew he was my father, and that God knew who my father was; even if my father never came forth to identify himself, Owen told me, God would identify him for me. “YOUR DAD CAN HIDE FROM YOU,” Owen said, “BUT HE CAN'T HIDE FROM GOD.”
And with that announcement, Owen Meany grunted as he released a stone that reached the water. We were both surprised; it was the last rock either of us threw that day, and we stood watching the circle of ripples extending from the point of entry until even the gulls were assured we had stopped our disturbance of their universe, and they returned to our side of the Squamscott.
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Studio: Modern Library
Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 8.26" Width: 5.72" Height: 1.38" Weight: 1.65 lbs.
Release Date Jun 4, 2002
Publisher Modern Library
ISBN 0679642595 ISBN13 9780679642596
Availability 0 units.
More About John Irving
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.
John Irving currently resides in Toronto. John Irving was born in 1942.
Reviews - What do customers think about A Prayer for Owen Meany?
Recommendations Jun 14, 2008
If you want a fairly comprehensive definition of "religion", I recommend these books and movies, and in any order:
Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut Life of Pi by Yann Martel Donnie Darko, Director's Cut A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
All of these depict the concept of religion differently, except Donnie Darko and A Prayer for Owen Meany, which have similar definitions of religion. I threw Donnie Darko in there because it's a nice visual compliment to A Prayer for Owen Meany.
Definitely Worth Reading Jun 12, 2008
No library is complete without this book - I mean that. I'm an avid reader with many favorites, but I have to say that "A Prayer for Owen Meany" is one of my all-time favorites. It's so different from any other literature that it really speaks to readers in a way vastly different from anything else.
This book is worth reading over and over again.
Astounding Jun 3, 2008
Despite the fact that John Wheelwright is the narrator of this tale, the story is really about Owen Meany - and a more peculiar and unique central character one will rarely come across. Nevertheless in thinking back on the book it struck me that Johnny himself is quite the odd duck. His role as narrator allows him to blend into the background, to be part of Owen's environment, and yet the essence of his life is quite as strange. Unknown father, mother taken away by an act of god(?), Johnny drifts through school and has no belief in his own intellect, yet in later years we find him thinking quite keenly about life, literature and politics. There's nothing wrong with his brain; perhaps it is his very closeness to Owen's brilliance that blinds him to himself.
And is Owen's role in John's mother's death - his act as God's instrument, if you will - a lesson for Owen's benefit? Is this God's way of proving to Owen that he is an instrument, the hand of God? Or is it for Johnny?
A very thought-provoking work, well worth reading.
Eager anticipation turns to disappointment May 27, 2008
I was very eager to read this book-- it had come highly recommended by a reliable source. Therefore, I was dismayed when 250 pages into this book, I was still unsure as to the purpose and plot of this novel. Perhaps I missed the point, but it was a challenge forcing myself to finish the book. I found John Irving's writing style pedantic, boring, and repetitive. His word usage, I felt, was more for effect than for substance..... just my humble opinion.
Of all human appurtenances that forsake us, it seems apparent the loss of a friendship dooms us the most May 24, 2008
"I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice", writes John Irving. Instantaneously introducing Owen Meany, whose minute physique and irritating voice create unforgettable presence throughout the story.
This novel is about two pre-puberty boys whose innocent camaraderie segues into sophisticaded friendship. In the beginning, Johnny denies and mocks Owen. (As always the case when an acquaintance is better than you in some ways.) Nevertheless Owen is persistent on his friendship thereby Johnny gets accustom to Owen and later depends on his company. After the pre-mature death of his mother, Johnny Wheelwright seeks the indentity of his biological father with the ingenious guidance of his best friend. The discovery of his clandestine parent greatly disappoints him however because he realizes they share the same trait of cowardice and uncertainty.
One can symphatize with a little boy who dreams of meeting his father so strong and full of merits, and one can picture a grown man whose encounter with his decrepit parent sees his own future; feels certain sadness and fear; such is Johnny's fear when his mother dies; such is Johnny's sadness when Owen leaves, never to hear his voice again. There is a hidden friendship between mother and son, while friendship between two individuals is exposed. Therefore when the latter is dissolved, the public is the best judge that you somehow did something wrong.
Read this book if I may suggest, not to dwell on Johnny rather to know Owen Meany. He is agitating because everything he says is sensible on matters of religion, politics, and life. He is fascinating because everything he does is purposeful. His overt ways of demonstrating true meaning of friendship is captivating.
True to my contemporaries' reviews, the book suffices without Johnny's narration of Vietnam War. Nonetheless, the generous narration makes one anticipate Owen's uppercase dialogue with the characters of the story. Additionally, Johnny is recollecting his life with Owen; hence, what becomes of him in Toronto during and after the war is vital to the plot.
John Irving is a wizard in transforming a real person he once knew to a fictional character so bizarre yet ideal.