Plot summary (from the publisher): In the summer of 1953, two eleven-year-old boys—best friends—are playing in a Little League baseball game in Gravesend, New Hampshire. One of the boys hits a foul ball that kills the other boy’s mother. The boy who hits the ball doesn’t believe in accidents; Owen Meany believes he is God’s instrument. What happens to Owen, after that 1953 foul ball, is extraordinary and terrifying.
Warning: Spoilers below!
- John Irving prides himself on writing amazing first sentences, and considers the opening of Owen Meany to be one of his best. I have to agree: “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 was the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.” Wow.
- It was great that Owen’s dialogue, diary entries, and newsletter articles were presented in ALL CAPS. Was all caps considered “shouting” in typewriter days as it is now on the Internet? If not, can Irving be considered the pioneer of the concept?
- I really enjoyed reading about Owen and John’s friendship. They seemed like such complete opposites, but their friendship ended up being full of genuine love and mutual respect.
- Dan Needham and his relationship with John was wonderful, too. I’m glad Dan and John stayed together, even after John’s mother’s death, and I loved that John considered Dan to be his father — even after learning about Reverend Merrill.
- I liked that Owen was kind of a mystical figure. I actually don’t quite know what to make of him, whether he was truly an instrument of God or not (though I lean towards “yes” because he foretold the exact date of his death). Either way, he believed it and acted accordingly, which made him sort of noble and tragic all at the same time.
- This novel was way too long and had too many dull patches along the way. In particular, I didn’t like any of the “present day” stuff with John moping around Canada railing against the Reagan administration. That stuff could have been completely excised without affecting the main storyline at all.
- I thought Owen’s death scene was a bit underwhelming. I knew the dead soldier’s crazy brother would be the instrument of death as soon as he was introduced, so that wasn’t a surprise to me. Still, I was hoping the buildup to the event would pay off in spectacular fashion — but that’s not what happened. The only surprising thing about the death was that Owen and John used the move perfected from all that time practicing “The Shot”. I had no idea that would actually come into play!
- Speaking of no payoff, what did it matter that Reverend Merrill turned out to be John’s father? Unless I missed something, that little nugget had no impact on the story at all.
- Simon and Noah kind of went nowhere as characters. I was expecting a lot more from them since Irving spent so much time describing them early in the novel. But only Hester got any real attention as the story progressed, which made me wonder why I had to sit through all the stuff with the cousins in the first place.
I’ve read a few John Irving novels, so I’m fairly used to his writing style, quirky characters, and unbelievable happenings. And even though I wanted to love A Prayer for Owen Meany because of all the praise it has earned since publication in 1989, I can’t muster up anything more than lukewarm feelings to the book. I give it 3 stars out of 5.