A Prayer for Owen Meany Review
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My decade-old mass-market copy of this novel was just about to bite the dust, so I was quite glad that this year (2002) they came out with a new Modern Library hardcover commemorating this recent classic. I of course had to break in my new copy, so I re-read it…again. And once again, I enjoyed it thoroughly.

This is, in my opinion, John Irving’s best book. It’s very quirky, but seems to be the least off-the-wall of his stories, and has the best characters. The story’s narrator, John Wheelwright, tells the story from the viewpoint of1987, looking back on his best friend, Owen Meany. Owen was very small (not even five feet when he was fully grown), and had a “wrecked voice”—that is, his voice was fixed in a permanent screa
m (Irving represents all Owen’s dialogue in ALL CAPS). But these weren’t the most distinctive things about Owen. The most distinctive thing was his unusual Christian faith—a faith that he was GOD’S INSTRUMENT. It’s Owen’s faith that John credits as the cause of his own eventual faith.

This book is hilarious at times—the (quite unorthodox) Christmas pageant scene, in which Owen plays the Christ child (and makes it into a speaking role) is alone worth reading it for, which is why it’s great to read around Christmas. But since the book covers about forty years (it’s quite Dickensian in that way), there’s no need to only read it at Christmas, and humor is definitely not the only emotion this well-crafted novel evokes. As for themes, it’s about finding family (Owen helps John in the search of his real father); it’s about baseball (especially a certain fated game that caused the characters to wince at the crack of a bat thereafter); it’s about American politics (and the Vietnam war); and it’s about faith and doubt and miracles (and the unlikeliest of God’s instruments).

If any of this sounds vaguely familiar, the movie Simon Birch was loosely based on A Prayer for Owen Meany, but so loosely that the movie doesn’t bear the same name. And rightly so—they changed major parts of the plot and characterization for the movie version. For instance, the movie had nothing to do with the Vietnam war, though it's a major theme in the book.

Interested in John Irving? Read Kristin’s review of A Son of the Circus. Interested in humorous novels about the Vietnam era and baseball? Read my review of another one of my favorites, The Brothers K by David James Duncan.

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