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A Prayer for Owen Meany (1989)

by John Irving

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
18,007324265 (4.24)2 / 666
In the summer of 1953, two 11-year-old boys--best friends--are playing in a Little League baseball game in New Hampshire. One of the boys hits a foul ball that kills his best friend's mother. Owen Meany believes he didn't hit the ball by accident. He believes he is God's instrument. What happens to Owen after 1953 is extraordinary and terrifying. He is Irving's most heartbreaking hero.… (more)
  1. 132
    The World According to Garp by John Irving (dele2451)
    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. 122
    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 Miracle Life of Edgar Mint: A Novel by Brady Udall (sanddancer)
  6. 20
    The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach (Ciruelo)
  7. 10
    The Tin Drum by Günter Grass (spiphany)
  8. 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
  9. 11
    American Gods: Author's Preferred Text by Neil Gaiman (krazy4katz)
    krazy4katz: Both works have elements of religion and belief. They are both mystical in very different ways.
  10. 00
    Simon Birch [1998 film] by Mark Steven Johnson (TheLittlePhrase)
  11. 00
    Observatory Mansions by Edward Carey (potenza)
    potenza: Similar peculiar, poignant central character

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» See also 666 mentions

English (318)  Dutch (3)  German (2)  French (1)  All languages (324)
Showing 1-5 of 318 (next | show all)
I think I could have enjoyed this book but the author chose to put all of "Owen's" words in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS and it is REALLY ANNOYING TO TRY AND READ A BOOK WITH FREQUENT CAPITALIZATION. I understand why he chose this technique but I think it was unnecessary and ultimately unsatisfying. I gave up on it pretty early on. ( )
  Kim.Sasso | Aug 27, 2023 |
Of all the John Irving I've read this one is still my favorite and holds a place on my top ten list. ( )
  rebwaring | Aug 14, 2023 |
This is the ninth book I've read by Irving. It opened a whole side of him which has long been there but this was my first encounter with it. I should have known that a book whose title begins with "A prayer" would have a lot to do with religion, faith and doubt. I was prepared for the usual Irving trappings, New England, New Hampshire, boarding schools, small person, disfigurement, missing limbs, amputation, sex, death, sports, coming of age, missing fathers, single parents, Germans, protests, acting out, literature, actors, professors, teachers, abortions, grandparents etc. What was missing Iowa and wrestling.

The two central characters are lifelong friends. One, Owen Meany, is extremely short and always screaming, he has no other voice. A unique feature of this book is every word Owen utters is written in all capital letters or as they called it, MONUMENT CASE. This was appropriate as Owen's family owned a granite business which produced monuments for Cemetaries. The friendship is challenged when Owen is pitch hitting in a losing little league game where the coach wants to get it over with and tells Owen for the first time ever to swing away. Owen eventually does and hits a line drive foul just outside the third base line only to hit John's mother's in the head instantly killing her. John's mother is one of the few people who loved Owen. Owen is beside himself with remorse. This is where we begin to see religion enter the story. Owen is convinced he's God's instrument but this tragic event makes him question his faith. John on the other hand just considers this a tragic accident and he, like everyone else, doubt that God has a special purpose for Owen.

Owen says that God speaks to him in visions while he sleeps and this is how he knows what he does is God's will. John pushes back telling Owen these are probably dreams or nightmares. At one point Owen tells John he is going to die a hero saving children and even knows exactly when he's going to die, but will not tell John what the date is. Unbeknownst to John Owen actually discusses these visions with the local ministers and even a priest. While Owen has a heart of gold he has little tolerance for authorities especially those who claim to speak for God. While both a stand out student and being extremely powerful for such a small person, due to his working in his father's granite business, Owen is continually getting in trouble, especially for speaking out. Because he knows he will die a hero he volunteers to go to Vietnam but because of his size and his experience in the mortuary business the Army has other plans for him and assigns has him to stay stateside and console the families of soldiers that did not come home alive.

It may seem like I'm giving away the plot. I felt there was no need to say spoiler alert when discussing a book that was published twenty years ago. Let me assure you there are many subplots which I have not even touched upon, such as how Owen helps John's search for his real father, how John learns faith, how girls react to Owen, what slam ducking in under three seconds has anything to do with all this, what John does with life after Owen, what do boarding schools have to do with this, how do cousins enter the picture, who is Hester the Molester, how do the wars and events of the sixties, seventies and eighties impact everyone, and then there's more to John's mother than just a pretty face, etc. Read the book to fill in those stories.

Irving knows his bible. The book is laced with quotations often with book and verse and debated rather than just quoted. There's a tension between various forms of Christianity such as Protestant sects and the Catholic church. The role of ministers and priests is explored, especially how they live and interact with their congregations. How kids experience a nativity play is revisited several times. Perhaps the most important religious theme is the exploration of faith and doubt. Irving wrestles with this and in many ways it's central to the entire book.

On the more academic side, this book is an homage to Gunter Grass' The Tin Drum. I've yet to read The Tin Drum but have heard about it for fifty years and it's now next on my reading list. There are some parallels that quickly jump to mind. A very short central character who constantly screams, it's his only voice. A society indelibly marked by failed wars, Germany in WWII and the U.S. in Vietnam, especially failed political leadership. More subtle are the initials of the main character, O.M. for Oskar Morgenstern. I'm sure this list will grow longer once I actually read The Tin Drum.

And then there's the movie. At first I was under the impression that this was never made in to a movie. That made sense to me as I could see how difficult it would be to turn in to a movie. After checking Wikipedia I learned that it had been made into a movie only its title is Simon Burch. Turns out that Irving insisted they change the title and all the character names, even the name of town. I can see why he wanted to disassociate his work from the much inferior movie. Yes movies usually leave out a lot of the book. In this case that included, screaming, boarding school, all anti-war material, the marriage, changed who John's real father is, how he learned about him, and what he did after learning the truth. The movie comes across as smarmy. The book does not. The movie does have some interesting casting including Ashley Judd, Oliver Platt, David Strathairn, and even Jim Carey as the adult version of John. Pass on the movie, stick with the book. ( )
  Ed_Schneider | Jul 11, 2023 |
"Your memory is a monster; you forget—it doesn’t. It simply files things away. It keeps things for you, or hides things from you—and summons them to your recall with a will of its own. You think you have a memory; but it has you."

"When someone you love dies, and you’re not expecting it, you don’t lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long time—the way the mail stops coming, and her scent fades from the pillows and even from the clothes in her closet and drawers. Gradually, you accumulate the parts of her that are gone. Just when the day comes—when there’s a particular missing part that overwhelms you with the feeling that she’s gone, forever—there comes another day, and another specifically missing part."

"She possessed the nonspecific clumsiness of someone who makes such a constant effort to be inconspicuous that she is creatively awkward—without meaning to, Germaine hoarded attention to herself; her almost electric nervousness disturbed the atmosphere surrounding her." ( )
  carlahaunted | May 27, 2023 |
So hard to categorize or describe this book; it's like nothing else. Owen is, for sure, an unforgettable character; but in a quieter way, so is every other character in the book. Indelible scenes. Not everyone will enjoy the quirkiness of the book, but on my bookshelves, it is a gem and a classic. ( )
  ReadMeAnother | May 23, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 318 (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)
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 Shortride | editBooklist (pay site) (Mar 1, 1989)
John Irving’s A Prayer For Owen Meany is yet another Irving book that absolutely held my attention, and had me racing to finish it. Irving, perhaps because of his own dyslexia, takes pains to write clearly and readably. He avoids labyrinthine construction. He earns his right to describe things by keeping the action moving.

» Add other authors (10 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
John Irvingprimary authorall editionscalculated
Barrett, JoeNarratorsecondary authorsome 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.
Publisher's editors
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Wikipedia in English (2)

In the summer of 1953, two 11-year-old boys--best friends--are playing in a Little League baseball game in New Hampshire. One of the boys hits a foul ball that kills his best friend's mother. Owen Meany believes he didn't hit the ball by accident. He believes he is God's instrument. What happens to Owen after 1953 is extraordinary and terrifying. He is Irving's most heartbreaking hero.

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Book description
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.
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