Without a doubt the most emotionally stirring book I have ever read (I don't know what that says about me), It made me cry for an hour at least.
If you fancy yourself a diehard Atheist and have not read A Prayer for Owen Meany, you are untested.
If you fancy yourself a Christian and have not read A Prayer for Owen Meany, you are truly missing out on what I consider a modern vision of your faith.
This book is so full of subtleties, wit and insight, I fear it may be lost on many. Just remember as you read, everything is on purpose.

Don't be afraid. ;)

The fictional character and narrator of the book John Wheelwright was not a wrestler for the record. :P

A Prayer For Owen Meany is a fantastic novel by John Irving. First published in 1989, the book deals with the weighty issues of Christianity, death, and the Vietnam war while still wrapping itself up with a very enjoyable, easy to swallow plot that will keep you absorbed in the book. It should be noted that the movie Simon Birch is loosely based on this novel. It is available as a mass market paperback with ISBN number 0345361792.

The book mostly revolves around Owen Meany and John Wheelwright, two boys who grow up together in the small town of Gravesend, New Hampshire. The book is told from the perspective of John, but the central character of the book is Owen. Owen is the son of a granite quarrier who is quite small for his age, but also quite wise and intelligent.

The book chronicles how the two boys grow up together and learn about the world in different ways, mostly in that John is something of a reflection of Owen. A good portion of the book revolves around their religious upbringing, so expect a focus on religion in the book. In the end, though, the book is really a fun romp with a large number of worthwhile issues hidden just under the surface, just as any good novel should be.

As usual, John Irving creates a handful of truly memorable set pieces in the book. The scene of the headmaster driving a trashed Volkswagen down the school's marble staircase is one of these. So are the Christmas pageants Owen stars in, as is the Little League game that provides the centerpiece of the first part of the book. It is from these memorable scenes that the characters are really built, and not just Owen Meany and John Wheelwright; this book is loaded with well-constructed minor characters, too, from John's grandmother and her maid to the various teachers at the academy.

The main point of the book is self-discovery, I think. Owen knows his purpose in life (he believes he is the instrument of God; whether he is or not is up for debate), but John is constantly seeking it in trying to discover the identity of his father. Often, religion is used in this self-discovery in a lot of ways, but this book never really seems to comment on organized religion itself that much. The book's countless subplots add up to a moral argument against American foreign policy from Vietnam to the Iran-Contra affair, which seems to be his real commentary here.

The plot itself is quite touching and does encourage reflection on religion and what is really important in life, as well as a strong consideration of American foreign policy from a relatively abstract perspective. There are several moments within the book that nearly brought a tear to my eye, and not necessarily the conclusion, either. Yet this isn't what I would call a tear-jerking book; instead, I think the phrase "thoughtful" is much more appropriate here.

Another aspect of the novel I found quite enjoyable is the abundance of literary references throughout. Irving pays tribute to some of his literary heroes, borrowing stylistically from Günter Grass (especially his novel, The Tin Drum) and Robertson Davies and his Deptford trilogy, all of which are worth reading. In addition, major parts of the plot involve a version of A Christmas Carol and portions of Julius Caesar serve as a plot point.

This book is as solid as anything John Irving has ever written, and he's written a lot of good stuff. I would also recommend The World According To Garp and The Cider House Rules from his catalogue if you enjoyed this one, though I have yet to read a poor novel by Irving. Even if the content doesn't sound that intriguing to you, Owen Meany is definitely worth picking up; the story most of the time flows so well that you don't even realize the larger points. That is definitely the sign of a good novel.

A book that inspires and influences must not only spark interest in the mind, but also effect the heart and spirit. There are great books, but the true greatness of any book is measured only in what emotions and thoughts it cultivates in each reader. For myself, A Prayer for Owen Meany, penned by John Irving, was a book that provoked emotions in myself and made me feel absorbed in the story.

The life story of Owen Meany is quite unconventional and profoundly rooted in his religious beliefs. We follow the unique life of Owen through the voice and memories of his lifelong best friend, Johnny Wheelwright. Wheelwright narrates as a grown adult reflecting upon his childhood and adolescent years. The story of the two boys' lives together evolves into discussion on the purpose of Owen’s existence. The work is especially touching with the charity and self-giving that Owen accomplishes. Reading the book, one feels as though they know Owen, not necessarily empathizing with or understanding him at all times, but knowing him as a friend.

The carefully crafted world in which the novel is set integrates everything from a battle between Christian religious denominations to that of the Vietnam War, and adds to the emotional intensity of events of the text. A Prayer for Owen Meany inspires the reader to think about and to question Owen Meany’s claims to be God’s instrument, and the odd string of events that would ultimately put Owen into his “fated” situation. Whether or not Owen Meany truly was all that his personal religious beliefs asserted, the book does inspire a reader to consider the possibilities of his foreshadowing and the phenomenon that was his life.

A Prayer for Owen Meany is an original work that is dynamic and emotionally provocative. It may even influence religious beliefs and respect for life in readers. The author has created a masterpiece that will continue to encourage thought and animate emotion in readers for many years to come. I would highly recommend the reading of this work to anybody, student and adult alike, even though most high school or college students will encounter this work in their studies.

Dare I say it? I despise A Prayer for Owen Meany. I started reading Irving's book expecting that I would be quite impressed -- every review that I'd heard for it was positive. Even the cover was alluring.

Now, the first hundred words or so of the book are not without value. But by the time I got even halfway through the first chapter, I felt like I wanted to stop reading. John Irving begins a dangerous precedent by narrating the book from Toronto (through the transparent Johnny Wheelwright). Safely outside the United States, Irving manages to rail against Ronald Reagan every ten pages, practically seething with righteous rage. He portrays the sins of Reagan against the sins of Vietnam, preaching through his entirely uninteresting character. The first one or two such rants are tolerable; when they become more frequent, they become entirely unbearable.

Nor does Irving's style of writing become more tolerable as the book goes on. Every other paragraph ends with a question mark to convey some point of foreshadowing. Overall, Irving's work feels like a bad horror movie, or a Harlequin romance. "Little did I know then that Owen would become a martyr." Doesn't sound so bad? Read it every few sentences. This becomes very painful. It doesn't help that the book is very, very long and contains hundreds and hundreds of incidents of poor storytelling.

Okay. On to the symbolism.

John Irving uses the book to illustrate an internal crisis of faith, but the book turns out to be more wishful thinking than anything else. Owen Meany is the personification of what Irving seems to have looked for -- a prophet who carries out a miracle. Thusly, Owen is an object of absolute faith, perhaps the only cause of absolute faith. The mental process expounded upon in the book appears to be a desire for complete affirmation of one's belief. However, both the best and worst Christians of the book are stumbling in the dark, the same as everybody else. Even after witnessing the fulfillment of Owen's prophecies, John doubts.

The themes are not my problem with the book, although I frankly find Irving's religious crisis remarkably uninteresting. My problem is that Irving came up with what is very nearly an excellent plot and spoiled it with poor writing. That's my opinion, anyway. I'm sticking to it.

I have one other problem with Irving's storytelling, but saying it here would ruin the ending for many people. (Not that he doesn't do it.) /msg me and I'll tell you, if you've read the book.

By John Irving

John Irving wrote a good book. It was so good that it became an International Bestseller. This contemporary novel had comedy that any person could relate to, with massive amounts of sarcastic remarks and hidden funny meanings. A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY was the prayer of mankind - but especially the American people. Everything that occurred happened for a reason.

In 1987 John Wheelwright narrates the story of his childhood while living in his current residence of Toronto, Canada. The story John Wheelwright is telling takes place in Gravesend, New Hampshire, with common occurrence at either 8th Front Street, Gravesend Academy, or Dan's apartment. The book jumps in chronology constantly, sometimes leaving out details and later returning to them. <.p>

    • John Wheelwright was born in 1942. The learner of the book. Raised by an aristocratic family and best friends to Owen, he mixes many worlds together and creates religious faith.
    • Owen Meany was born in 1942. Dwarf sized and squeaky high-pitched voice. All dialogue by this character is in capitals. Family in granite business. Accidently kills John's mother Tabby. Was told by his parents to be of virgin birth!!! Believes himself to be similar to Christ and has a dream about saving Vietnamese children, later this dream becomes a reality and he ends up dying while saving them in real life from a grenade.
    • Hester Eastman was John's youngest cousin. Rebellious against parents, wants to marry Owen. Later became Rock Star as Hester the Molester.
    • Dan Needham, Johnny’s good stepfather and mentor who encourages the boys, helps in getting them an education and boarding. He never knows who Johnny’s real father is.
    • Mrs. Tabby Wheelwright (Johnny's mother). Lady in Red. Was accidently killed by Owen Meany in the summer of 1953 by the Foul Ball.
    • Rev. Louis Merrill, (Johnny's father) has a secret affair with Mrs. Wheelwright. Loses faith as Reverend, later gains it back when Johnny throws the baseball through the church window.
    • Lydia is Mrs. Wheelwright's maid, and loses a leg to cancer spending the rest of her life in a wheelchair.
    • Harriet Wheelwright, Johnny's maternal grandmother, represents the Wheelwright aristocratic background.
    • Rev. Dudley Wiggin runs the Christmas pageant where Owen plays as baby Jesus.
    • Barb Wiggin the wife of Dudley, purposely gives Owen an erection just before Owen's performance in the play. Also vocalized Owen's leaving of that church, though that would not have stopped Owen had he had a different opinion.
    • Noah and Simon Eastman, brothers of Hester and cousins to John. Both are wild and "off the walls" as children play mates.
    • Dick Jarvits kills Owen Meany with a grenade he tossed to John (who then did The Shot with Owen in under 3 seconds) and the Dick is killed by Major Rawls.

Point of View:
John Wheelwright's point of view, though at times Owen's is very apparent too.

Opening paragraphs (First scene):
John Wheelwright starts ranting on about Owen and Owen's difficulties. He continues talking about religion and his death, and the first taste of Anti Americanism is given to the reader. John talks about his first relations with Owen, especially in church and their games with him by picking him up.

Plot Outline:
Owen Meany and John Wheelwright grow up in Gravesend, New Hampshire, where they learn from each other and grow together as best friends. Owen is physically pathetic in his younger years but becomes fit because of the army, though his voice never changes. Owen was told he was of virgin birth, plays the part of baby Jesus in a pageant and the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, and sacrifices his life for Vietnamese children. John finds religion through the miracle of Owen Meany. Owen encourages John to become a teacher, go to Canada, among other things, which John does all of (receiving a degree in English). A majority of the book is about the mystery of John's parents, his mother who Owen accidently killed, used to be the Lady in Red. His father, who is unknown for the majority of the book (with clues to the reader and known by Owen early on). Owen serves in the army as a casualty-assistance officer, escorting dead soldier bodies back to their families.

        SPOILER Ending:
        In July in Phoenix, Arizona, Owen sacrifices his life saving the children with John committing The Shot as a grenade is tossed to John. Owen's arms are blown off and he bleeds to death in the arms of a penguin nun, just as in his dream.

    Meaningful Quotes that illustrate how funny this book was:
  • (John’s mom has) “THE BEST BREASTS OF ALL THE MOTHERS.” - Chap 1
  • "EVERY TIME YOU GET A BONER, TRY TO THINK IF YOU REMIND YOURSELF OF ANYONE YOU KNOW." (Owen’s advice to Johnny in his search for his father!) - Chap 6
  • "A LITTLE BREATHLESS, VERY BEAUTIFUL, MAYBE A LITTLE STUPID, MAYBE A LOT SMARTER THAN SHE SEEMED." (Owen’s reference of Marilyn Monroe being just like America...) Chap 8
  • ”Hester the Molester.” (Multiple times, multiple chapters)

    Further Details:
  • John Wheelwright is a Virgin for his whole life.
  • In Comparison - Hester molests has sexual relations with countless boys.
  • Owen and Hester never marry. Nor does Hester go to Owen’s funeral.
  • John Wheelwright attains Canadian citizenship, with purposes unknown.
  • The book swears multiple times, at least a couple hundred - and my AP English teacher advised us that reading this book could offend us.

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