A Prayer for Owen Meany

Book cover: A Prayer for Owen Meany by John IrvingA Prayer for Owen Meany is one of those books that I kept hearing everyone rave about but I just never got around to. I’ve actually had the book on my shelf for over a year now, so when The Estella Society announced the book as its pick for a summer readalong, I figured it would be a good push to get the book finally crossed off my TBR list!

The book is about two boys, Johnny Wheelwright and Owen Meany, and their unique friendship that lasts from childhood through early adulthood. At first glance, the two are opposites. Owen is unusually small, with a squeaky and unique voice that’s WRITTEN IN ALL CAPS. He’s an extremely intelligent boy from a working class background. Johnny doesn’t know who his father is, but he’s a Wheelwright in a town where legacy is important; he lives with his grandmother and mother on a well-off part of town. The two boys are inseparable, and Owen is practically part of the family. Then the inexplicable happens: Owen kills Johnny’s mother in a freak accident. Rather than ending their friendship, the two become closer than ever.

The plot is mostly linear, though it’s narrated by a much older Johnny who is haunted by his past. He keeps looking back on his youth and thinking of all the ways that Owen changed his life. Owen would be a hard person to forget even under normal circumstances, what with THAT VOICE and all, but Owen was anything but unique. He believes that he’s an instrument of God, and that everything that happens to him or because of him is part of God’s plan. This is at times exasperating to Johnny, but nothing can dissuade Owen from that belief.

It’s a long book — over 600 pages split into nine long chapters — and at times I did feel like it parts dragged on unnecessarily. I’d get hooked by a huge chunk then inevitably hit a slow part, so that was frustrating considering the length of the book. But I like how Irving documented the different eras, starting from the slower-paced period of innocence during the boys’ childhood, through the mischief of their adolescence, then the turmoil over Vietnam and the threat of being drafted. As Johnny looked back his time with Owen, he was narrating from the politically frustrating 1980s. I also had a soft spot from Hester the Molester (Johnny’s mercilessly-teased cousin, who was the only girl growing up in a family of rowdy boys).

Ultimately, I wasn’t quite as taken with the book as pretty much everyone else in the entire world seems to be (seriously, I know a lot of people who list the book as their #1 favorite of all time). I can see why people are totally in love with it by the time they get to The Big Ending, and the book was even chosen for this year’s World Book Night USA, but…apparently I have a heart of stone?

A Prayer for Owen Meany was originally published in 1989. I read the 2012 edition by William Morrow, an imprint of HarperCollins.

Goodreads | Amazon
I read it as a(n): Paperback
Source: Publisher
Pages: 640

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2 comments

  1. The Literary Omnivore

    I don’t think you have a heart of stone. I think that this probably got overhyped for you. I read this in high school, having never heard of it or John Irving before, and my entire class took to it quite nicely. It also helped that Pushing Daisies was on at the time and the ferocious AP girls declared that, despite the descriptions in the book, Johnny’s mother was clearly Chuck.

  2. Andi (@estellasrevenge)

    I’m glad you liked it even if you aren’t gushing as hardcore as many (me, I admit it). I think what works so well for me, and what seems to really reel me in is the sense of epicness in Irving’s books. You get to the end and feel like you really know those characters — as frustrating and slow as it can be along the way.

    Thanks for joining us!!!

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