This year I’ve been contemplating my approach to reading as a means of getting better as a writer. There are a few novelists who have risen to the top in my personal opinion poll, and I’m thinking about setting goals around reading everything that they’ve written. If he wasn’t so prolific, John Irving would be one of them, and A Prayer for Owen Meany is a prime example of his quality as a writer.
A Prayer for Owen Meany has been around for a while. It is the story of John Wheelwright and his friend, Owen Meany, who believes he is an instrument of God. The story is told alternating between present day and non sequential narratives of their childhood growing up. For those who may have seen the movie Simon Birch, that is based on the first part of this book.
I would venture to guess that of those who have read this book, Owen Meany would make a top 10 list of memorable characters. If his physical description isn’t enough (extremely petite with translucent skin), the ALL CAPS representation of his voice to illustrate a abnormally loud, high-pitch squeal is. (Initially, I thought this would be annoying and disruptive, but I adjusted, and it wasn’t.)
Owen lives life focused on his death – an event he has had visions of and actually writes about in a journal that the narrator, John, reads after Owen dies. This permeates a theme of fate versus free will throughout, which is furthered by other religious topics of Christ-figures and virgin births.
While this may sound heavy – and at times it is – John Irving is funny. Laugh out loud funny. In a story where a stuffed armadillo and a human size mannequin play significant parts in their symbolism, how could a reader not smile? But, there is also much that is sweet and tender in these two boys as they strive to grow up, learn where they came from and where they are going, and what they mean to one another.
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