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A Prayer for Owen Meany (Modern Library) by…

A Prayer for Owen Meany (Modern Library) (original 1989; edition 2002)

by John Irving

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14,042251147 (4.27)2 / 482
Title:A Prayer for Owen Meany (Modern Library)
Authors:John Irving
Info:Modern Library (2002), Hardcover, 672 pages
Collections:Your library

Work details

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving (1989)

  1. 112
    The World According to Garp by John Irving (dele2451, shesinplainview)
    dele2451: Garp and Owen would make a great literary double feature. I wish I didn't have to wait so many years between reading both of these wonderful books.
  2. 112
    The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving (Booksloth)
  3. 51
    Peace Like a River by Leif Enger (jhedlund)
  4. 53
    A Son of the Circus by John Irving (Booksloth)
  5. 20
    The Tin Drum by Günter Grass (spiphany)
  6. 10
    The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint by Brady Udall (sanddancer)
  7. 00
    She's Come Undone by Wally Lamb (shesinplainview)
  8. 00
    American Gods - The Tenth Anniversary Edition by Neil Gaiman (krazy4katz)
    krazy4katz: Both works have elements of religion and belief. They are both mystical in very different ways.
  9. 11
    The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall (sruszala)
    sruszala: The style--many characters, complicated but compelling story, the humor--all remind me of John Irving
  10. 06
    A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (spiphany)
    spiphany: The production of "A Christmas Carol" is one of the most memorable scenes from the novel - I think it's interesting to go back and (re)read the source of inspiration.

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English (244)  Dutch (3)  French (2)  German (2)  All languages (251)
Showing 1-5 of 244 (next | show all)
Unbelievably beautiful. Once again, 6/5 stars.
  bartt95 | Apr 10, 2016 |
In the book, OWEN MEANY TALKS LIKE THIS. It's a gimmicky device, but it works. There's a Lagwagon song based on the book, and that song rocks. ( )
  evamat72 | Mar 31, 2016 |
I don't know what to say about this book... I enjoyed reading it more than The Hotel New Hampshire though I suspect that a lot of the dry wit about small town congregations went over my head. I did end up weeping so the claim on blurb on the back of my edition that "Owen Meany is Mr. Irving's most heartbreaking character" has some validity.

I loved the commentary about the Vietnam War & its attendant anti-war movement! But even more did I enjoy the sarcastic commentary about Reagan's Iran-Contra scheme as that is part of my personal history (I am just a bit too young to remember Vietnam).

But I am puzzled by certain aspects of the story. For example, why is John still a virgin at age 45-50? John's lack of sexuality throughout the story is strange and while it comes up repeatedly, it isn't really addressed. ( )
  leslie.98 | Mar 10, 2016 |
The novel is told through the eyes of a mature John Wheelwright, an English teacher at a private girls' school in Canada, who elaborates on the events surrounding his close friendship with Owen Meany during the 1950s and 1960s in a small town and at a private boarding school in New England. These, John makes clear, are responsible for his belief in God.

Owen is unusually short and his voicebox is fixed, so that he always sounds as if he is screaming. Owen's short stature makes him the butt of many jokes and pranks, though his peers do not generally dislike him. Owen Meany's family is in the granite company. Children and adults alike seem drawn to and are almost protective of Owen. Owen is also the recipient of many special privileges, such as getting to play the baby Jesus in a Christmas pageant because he is the only actor who can fit in the crib and not cry.

The book begins with John giving a long opening description of the (fictitious) town of Gravesend, New Hampshire, his old home, along with Owen and his mother, Tabitha. He and his mother live with John's grandmother, Harriet, and a wheelchair-bound (at the time of the beginning of the novel) maid, Lydia. John's paternity is a mystery to him, as his mother refuses to tell any of the family the man's name. Owen Meany becomes attached to Tabby, presumably because of his own home situation. His mother stares at things in her house, most notably the burned-out fireplace (John believes she was retarded), and his father is ill-equipped to deal. However, tragedy strikes when Owen hits a foul ball at a Little League game, which kills Tabitha. Her husband of a year, Dan, takes John under his wing and allows him to spend time at his house, an apartment at Gravesend Academy, where he teaches drama. The ball which killed her disappears, and John assumes Owen took it.

After Tabby's death, the whole community is affected, but life goes on. The narrator (John) introduces the characters of his three cousins: Hester, a tomboy, and Simon and Noah, both rough-housing older boys. Owen begs to be introduced, but embarrasses himself. All is forgiven, however, and although John is incestuously attracted to Hester, he puts these feelings away, chalking them to lust; especially after Owen admits he likes her.

Two major events that shape the narrative occur: The Gravesend Players, the local amateur acting group, put on a performance of A Christmas Carol while the boys' Episcopalian Church puts on a performance of The Nativity. Owen, with natural charisma, gets the parts of both baby Jesus and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, but both performances become marred. In A Christmas Carol, during the last performance, Owen becomes overwhelmed and faints, nearly delirious with fever. He claims to have seen his own name on Scrooge's grave. Dan dismisses his concerns. In the Nativity performances, Owen sits up in his manger and shouts to his parents that it is a 'sacrilege' that they should attend, presumably something to do with a 'grave' injustice his parents were dealt at the hands of the Catholic Church, building a personal bigotry in Owen to them.

Soon, the two enter the prep school of Gravesend Academy, Owen with a scholarship and the financial backing of Harriet and John because his stepfather teaches there. John struggles, and Owen is there to help him. But these years are not simple. John finds no success with the search for his father, or the opposite sex, or his schoolwork, the last forcing him to see the bumbling school psychiatrist, Doctor Dolder. Owen takes up smoking and begins dating Hester while becoming 'The Voice', the pen name of his editorial in the school newspaper. This forces him into an antagonistic relationship with the new school headmaster, which ends with Owen being kicked out of school for printing false draft cards and the new headmaster being fired. All through school, Owen and John practice The Shot, a basketball move where John lifts Owen over his head so that he may dunk the basketball. They practice it intermittently over the following years, getting it to under three seconds (eventually).

Throughout the book, an older version of John, in Canada, has gone on massive tirades against the Reagan Administration. His teaching career is going moderately well, but he still struggles with his past life.

From here, the book changes. Owen becomes fixated upon his death, whose date he saw on the grave during the play: July 8, 1968. The Vietnam War begins, and Owen chooses to enter the Army as John begins work as graduate student to avoid the dreaded draft. Despite his determination to get into Vietnam, Owen ends up in Arizona as a casualty officer, bringing bodies of Arizona soldiers home from California. He later explains to John that he has had a recurring dream in which he saves many Vietnamese children, but is killed in the process. He believes this to happen on the date he saw on the grave, and strives to fulfil his destiny. His actions create discord, but he stays the course.

John ends his graduate work and is about to be drafted. Owen, however, saws his finger off with a diamond wheel to avoid it. John later learns from Owen's diary that this was both to save his friend and to avoid John having to go to Vietnam, since Owen sees him in the dream and he will die there.

The story dives forward: John has become a teacher and has never lost his virginity, Dan is much older, Hester has become a punk rock superstar, and almost everyone else is dead. Owen's funeral is held, and Mr. Meany confides in John that he allegedly never had sex with Owen's mother, and believes Owen to be 'like the Christ Child'. John is internally furious at the man, but says nothing, even when Mr. Meany says that he told Owen this 'fact' at the age of eleven, which John blames for Owen's belief he was a Son of God. John continues to dwell on his past, then finally tells the story of Owen's death:

As the date approaches, Owen invites John to visit him in Arizona for one last get-together. Owen has matured in his role, even praising Catholics, whom he had earlier despised. The duo, along with a Major, confront a low-class family whose son was killed in Vietnam. The entire bunch, save the boy's sister is openly angry with the military. As Owen and John and the major meet at the airport, Owen becomes ecstatic that he may not die today. However, a planeload of Vietnamese children arrive, and he knows it is time. He helps escort the kids into the bathroom of the airport, where the brother of the fallen soldier attempts to kill them all with a grenade. He throws it to John, who passes it to Owen on his command, then using The Shot to throw Owen to an upper window where the grenade explodes, maiming Owen but not the children. The attacker is killed by the major, who, along with John and some nuns, tries to save Owen. It is no use, however, and Owen dies.

  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
This novel of sorrow and humour, isn't just the story of Owen Meany, but also of his best friend, John Wheelwright who narrates it. The book starts when they are eleven and in the first chapter Owen accidentally kills John's mother, although they are able to remain friends. It then covers many parts of the next 35 or so years in John's life.

Owen is unique. He is tiny, has a highly unusual voice and is extremely bright. He also, for much of the book, evidently knows the date of his death and what he's doing (this is not a spoiler). He has a driving faith that there is a Christian God, but he's neither pious nor zealous for the religious life. Much of this novel covers the events surrounding this vision of Owen's, but also how he and John both navigate the trials of youth and education, the pitfalls and joys of love, and how Owen helps John find out who he is and what he's good at. It is also, regretfully, rather political in the later parts, and I was not interested in hearing about Ronald Reagan and other issues of the time when this novel was being written.

The writing is strong, and Irving does an excellent job of filling out his characters. I liked this somewhat better than the only other book of his I've read, The World According to Garp, but I certainly didn't love it. ( )
  Karin7 | Mar 1, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 244 (next | show all)
"Owen Meany" is as sappy as a book can get without having a title like "Coddled By The Light" or "Sauntering Towards the Light" or "Picking Posies in the Fields of the Light," but it's never nauseating or treacly or overly wholesome. It's a nice good fun read, like a quiet vacation. Irving isn't wrangling us with extremes, here -- he gives us a break. You've been beat up enough, he says. I'll do the work for you this time. The result is merciful, healthy, warm and gladdening.
added by stephmo | editSalon.com, Cintra Wilson (Sep 30, 1996)
The characters capable of representing such scepticism don't look good on paper, while the book puts all its efforts into promoting a belief in belief. But a belief in belief is something this book lams into elsewhere: the Americans' propensity for decisiveness in the absence of policy. On the green award of the Gravesend Academy, it may seem innocent enough; in the jungles and deserts of international trouble spots, it looks fatally naive.
added by stephmo | editThe Guardian, Stephen Games (Jun 5, 1989)
Despite its theological proppings, A Prayer for Owen Meany is a fable of political predestination. As usual, Irving delivers a boisterous cast, a spirited story line and a quality of prose that is frequently underestimated, even by his admirers.
added by Shortride | editTime, R. Z. Sheppard (Apr 3, 1989)
Mr. Irving shows considerable skill as scene after scene mounts to its moving climax. But the thinking behind it all seems juvenile, preppy, is much too pleased with itself. There is something appropriate in the fact that so much of the book takes place in and around a New England academy. The heavily emphasized ''religious'' symbols at the center of the book - the contrast to American aggressiveness offered by the clawlessness of the armadillo, the armlessness of the Indian founder of the town, even John Wheelwright's imbecile joy at being mutilated as still another symbol of his sacrifice of sex to right thinking - all this reminds this long-tried teacher of all the ''Christ symbols'' his students find in everything and anything they have to read.
added by stephmo | editNew York Times, Alfred Kazin (Mar 12, 1989)
Diminutive Owen Meany, believing himself to be God's instrument, unlocks life's mysteries for his closest friend in this imaginative mix of humor and tragedy.
From Booklist, Copyright © American Library Association. Used with permission.
added by kthomp25 | editBooklist

» Add other authors (9 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
John Irvingprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Broek, C.A.G. van denTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Veenbaas, JabikTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vink, NettieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Have no anxiety about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.
—The Letter of Paul
to the Philippians
Not the least of my problems is that I can hardly even imagine what kind of an experience a genuine, self-authenticating religious experience would be. Without somehow destroying the process, how could God reveal himself in a way that would leave no room for doubt? If there were no room for doubt, there would be no room for me.
—Frederick Buechner
Any Christian who is not a hero is a pig.
—Leon Bloy
This book is for
Helen Frances Winslow Irving and
Colin Franklin Newell Irving,
my mother and father
First words
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.
One can learn much through the thin walls of summer houses.
She was just like our whole country—not quite young anymore, but not old either; a little breathless, very beautiful, maybe a little stupid, maybe a lot smarter than she seemed. And she was looking for something--I think she wanted to be good. Look at the men in her life—Joe DiMaggio, Arthur Miller, maybe the Kennedys. Look at how good they seem! Look at how desirable she was! That's what she was: she was desirable. She was funny and sexy—and she was vulnerable, too. She was never quite happy, she was always a little overweight. She was just like our whole country... And those men... Those famous, powerful men—did they really love her? Did they take care of her? If she was ever with the Kennedys, they couldn't have loved her—they were just using her, they were just being careless and treating themselves to a thrill. That's what powerful men do to this country—it's a beautiful, sexy, breathless country, and powerful men use it to treat themselves to a thrill! They say they love it but they don't mean it. They say things to make themselves appear good—they make themselves appear moral. That's what I thought Kennedy was: a moralist. But he was just giving us a snow job, he was just being a good seducer. I thought he was a savior. I thought he wanted to use his power to do good. But people will say and do anything just to get the power; then they'll use the power just to get a thrill. Marilyn Monroe was always looking for the best man—maybe she wanted the man with the most ability to do good. And she was seduced, over and over again—she got fooled, she was tricked, she got used, she was used up. Just like the country. The country wants a savior. The country is a sucker for powerful men who look good. We think they're moralists and then they just use us.
Every day is different; you never know how busy you'll be—most people don't die on schedule, most families don't order gravestones in advance.
. . . twenty-two-year-olds are stubborn.
You can't understand anything by reading the news.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Please distinguish between (a) the complete novel, A Prayer for Owen Meany; (b) the first part only; and (b) the second part only. Thank you.
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A Prayer for Owen Meany is the story of a a boy names John (the narrator) and his best friend Owen. Small, and dwarf-like, with a high pitched voice stressed by capital letters, Owen becomes John's inspiriation, and the reason why he becomes a Christian. While the book entails alot of religious aspect, it is not at all overwhelming, or attempting to sway you towards converting to a Christian. It is simply the reaction of John Wheelright to the occurances that happen to him and his best friend, and how he came to interpret them all. The book is querky, sinister, and humerous to say the least. I highly recomend this book to anyone.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0345361792, Mass Market Paperback)

Owen Meany is a dwarfish boy with a strange voice who accidentally kills his best friend's mom with a baseball and believes--accurately--that he is an instrument of God, to be redeemed by martyrdom. John Irving's novel, which inspired the 1998 Jim Carrey movie Simon Birch, is his most popular book in Britain, and perhaps the oddest Christian mystic novel since Flannery O'Connor's work. Irving fans will find much that is familiar: the New England prep-school-town setting, symbolic amputations of man and beast, the Garp-like unknown father of the narrator (Owen's orphaned best friend), the rough comedy. The scene of doltish the doltish headmaster driving a trashed VW down the school's marble staircase is a marvelous set piece. So are the Christmas pageants Owen stars in. But it's all, as Highlights magazine used to put it, "fun with a purpose." When Owen plays baby Jesus in the pageants, and glimpses a tombstone with his death date while enacting A Christmas Carol, the slapstick doesn't cancel the fact that he was born to be martyred. The book's countless subplots add up to a moral argument, specifically an indictment of American foreign policy--from Vietnam to the Contras.

The book's mystic religiosity is steeped in Robertson Davies's Deptford trilogy, and the fatal baseball relates to the fatefully misdirected snowball in the first Deptford novel, Fifth Business. Tiny, symbolic Owen echoes the hero of Irving's teacher Günter Grass's The Tin Drum--the two characters share the same initials. A rollicking entertainment, Owen Meany is also a meditation on literature, history, and God. --Tim Appelo

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:53 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

Owen Meany, the only child of a New Hampshire granite quarrier, believes he is God's instrument. He is. This is John Irving's most comic novel; yet Owen Meany is his most heartbreaking character.

(summary from another edition)

» see all 8 descriptions

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