A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY by John Irving
I have spent every season of the year with Owen Meany. My first encounter was the summer I played Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Playing a fairy is heady work. Owen grounded me. The following fall I started to write plays. My head overflowed with character voices. But since none of them were as distinct as Owen’s voice I read A Prayer for Owen Meany a second time. A few years down the road I gave birth to my third son. Newborns spend a lot of time nursing. I infused our bonding time with literature. Possibly because he was born on Friday the 13th, we began with the work of Stephen King and turned to Owen Meany in the spring. My son loved Owen too. He laughed and kicked his legs whenever I read Owen’s lines.
I dusted off my copy of A Prayer for Owen Meany in January and read it in weekly installments to my 89-year old Aunt. We finished last week. After spending the winter with Owen Meany the spring looks a little less promising. When I asked my Aunt what we should read next she said, “I don’t know. That Owen is a hard act to follow.”
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 an instrument
of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian
because of Owen Meany.
If there is an opening in literature more haunting or compelling then this, I haven’t read it. These words like Owen Meany, force me to move forward not only in the story, but in my life. He is one of the most inspiring fictional characters around.
I’ve met several people who do not care for this particular novel by John Irving. They scrunch up their noses when I mention the title because they don’t like the narrator Johnny Wheelwright. My fondness for the story made me defensive whenever I heard such tosh twenty years ago. I am no longer defensive.
Johnny is a dishrag next to Owen Meany. He lacks initiative and his personality is so neutral he can’t even get laid. But this is exactly why he is the perfect narrator for the story. Owen’s unconditional and unwavering faith means nothing to the reader without Johnny’s endless confusion about life. Irving’s choice to lay such opposites side-by-side forces the reader, just like Owen’s sacrifice forces Johnny to take a stand.
YOU HAVE TO MAKE A DECISION…IF YOU CARE ABOUT SOMETHING, YOU HAVE TO PROTECT IT—IF YOU’RE LUCKY ENOUGH TO FIND A WAY OF LIFE YOU LOVE, YOU HAVE TO FIND THE COURAGE TO LIVE IT.
This is one of the many reason’s I love John Irving. He is not shy about examining the issues most people refrain from talking about like death, religion, abortion and politics. When I picked up the novel this time I feared the story might feel dated because of the backdrop of the Vietnam War. I was mistaken.
The political unrest and arguments against the war in Owen’s and Johnny’s world seem to have more resonance today. Or maybe the relevance only feels stronger because, like Johnny Wheelwright, I have grown and experienced enough in life to take a stand.
For me, A Prayer for Owen Meany is a book that keeps on giving. I uncover more about the characters and myself each time I witness the journey of these inseparable friends.
Discover what you believe with A Prayer for Owen Meany.