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286 of 307 people found the following review helpful
on August 15, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
"A Prayer for Owen Meany" is NOT your typical book. Of course, that could be said about any of John Irving's novels; his is one of the most unusual voices I've ever read. But this one is especially unique. Owen Meany is probably the most memorable character that I've ever come across in a book of any genre. A dwarf with a voice so striking and strange that his dialogue is WRITTEN IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, he also believes (rightly!) that he is an instrument of God. It is sometimes confusing to follow the jumps in time; the narrator, Owen's best friend Johnny Wheelwright, alternates the story of his growing up with Owen with anecdotes from his "present" life in the late 80's.
Predestination, faith, doubt, politics, love, hate, family, friendship...these are all themes that make appearances in this book. Furthermore, it is a page-turner that is impossible to put down, right from the start. I read the entire second half of the book in one marathon reading session, wasting an entire morning because I couldn't bear to stop, knowing that more revelations were in store. I've read some of Irving's other novels, and loved them all, but I think "A Prayer for Owen Meany" has been the best so far.
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121 of 129 people found the following review helpful
on January 23, 2003
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This is undoubtedly the best book I have ever read. The plot is so complicated and intriguing that when you reach the end, and you finally see how John Irving ties together all of the intricate details, you are left dumbstruck. Despite the many carefully crafted foreshadowing clues, it's impossible to figure this one out until the end. If you've loved other books by Irving, you'll find the same quirky characters, rich symbolism, and literary craft.
Un..forget..able!
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187 of 209 people found the following review helpful
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I started reading A Prayer for Owen Meany at the urging of a friend, part of our on-going reading program. She had just started the novel, and said it was funny and I would enjoy it. I never expected that it would move me so. John Irving has written a profound novel of faith, friendship, and fate.
It took me one or two sections to understand Irving's style. He likes to jump around a lot, and as the story is written as a memoir, that is certainly understandable. But Johnny Wheelwright (the narrative voice of the story) wants to tell us too much, too fast, and it doesn't all make sense at first. Only one thing is clear from the beginning: Owen Meany is destined to change Johnny's life.
Owen and Johnny are friends in New Hampshire in the 1950s. They have a unique bond which due in part to Owen's extraordinary presence. The dwarfed child has a strange voice that chills most people (including Johnny's grandmother), but he also has an adult-like wisdom and understanding. The bond between Owen and Johnny is sealed by a freak accident when Owen hits a baseball, killing Johnny's mother.
As they grow up, it becomes clear to Johnny that Owen thinks he is guided by God. The accident with Johnny's mother is just one incident that ultimately will lead Johnny to find his own faith.
There are moments of biting humor in the novel as well as moments of sadness. Although the majority of the story centers on Johnny's childhood, it continues through his high school and college years. As expected for the setting, Kennedy and the Vietnam War become important themes throughout the story.
There are also moments when Johnny -- writing the novel in 1987 -- steps out of character to tell the reader in a diary-like fashion about his life in the present as a teacher. These "present day" episodes were the only thing about the novel I didn't like. Irving seems to be using the novel to criticize American politics (certainly a theme throughout the novel), but it never quite fits with the main plot, that of Owen and his influence on Johnny. I think the story would have been less bitter - and certainly shorter - if Irving had left out this editorializing.
I will always remember the stunning foreshadowing of the novel and the beautiful imagery that Irving writes. The story not only challenged me on an intellectual basis, but also on a spiritual one.
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45 of 50 people found the following review helpful
on April 24, 2001
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Ten years ago, I read a "Prayer for Owen Meany" for the first time. Since then, I have re-read the book 20 maybe 30 times and, even now, it still manages to impress and move me. (Note: "Owen Meany" is the only book with a religious theme that does not disgust me. Agnostics and athiests need not fear this work; it is neither preachy nor possessing of a saccharine-sweet sentimentality.) Now, "Owen Meany" is indeed the kind of book that people seem to either love or hate. Very few show ambivelence towards this work. I believe, however, that most of those who dislike this book simply lack the patience necessary in order to fall in love with it.
Standard Complaints Made By Many: It's slow to start, has too much detail, not enough "action," blah blah blah. My response to skeptics is this: John Irving is a writer strongly influenced by Dickens and, as such, his storytelling has a leisurely, near-Victorian quality to it. His is old-fashioned writing but never BAD writing. The first chapter of "Owen Meany" consists mostly of historical details. This high level of detail sets up the events outlined in the remainder of the book and is absolutely essential to the storytelling. Having trouble getting through the first 75 pages? Hey, take your ritalin and remember that books require a committment on the part of the reader and are supposed to move at a different, slower pace than that of television or of the movies.
And speaking of movies, if you loved "Simon Birch," you will hate "Owen Meany." That nauseating film--that travesty of a movie--bears as much resemblance to the book as Demi Moore's "Scarlet Letter" does to Nathaniel Hawthorne's masterpiece. "Simon Birch" manages to demistify everything that is magical in "Owen Meany," robbing the story of its power, its unsentimental beauty.
One of the wonderful things about "Owen Meany," is its wealth of images and symbols. Anyone who has read other works by John Irving will be familiar with the way in which he uses symbolism and repetition of motifs in order to express his ideas. The Undertoad. The Mole Man. The way sorrow floats. In "Owen Meany," John Iriving has refined his employment of symbolism and with it has managed to permeate every page of the work. The armadillo, the dress maker's dummy, the armless totem, the Nativity, and the Christmas Carol are not only vivid symbols but necessary elements of the plot.
"Owen Meany" is a funny, intelligent, life-changing book. Every time I finish the novel, I wish the work were twice as long as it is.
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68 of 80 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon July 25, 2006
Format: Mass Market Paperback
This story is told from the point of view of John Wheelright, who, in many aspects, is less a character than Owen Meany, the true focal point of the book. Owen is one of the most interesting, bizarre, uniquely eccentric characters one could ever come across in literature. He is small in size, has a strange voice (which is indescribable and written in all capital letters), and has an aura of fate and divinity about him that makes him appear to be an instrument of God (the ultimate decision of whether this is so or not is of course in the reader's hands). He believes that everything happens for a reason, and seems to project the ideal that each of us has a mission in life that they must fulfill regardless of its consequences. When Owen comes to realize his mission, he believes it is duty.

At the novels outset, John Wheelright gives us details about his upbringing, such as his family's life and origins in New Hampshire, as well as his religious background. He also discusses how he came to know Owen in school, and how his and Owen's family has their differences that perhaps made them skeptical of one another. He also goes into the regular town-style gossip: naming various people on the block and describing their personalities before just giving a general idea of the town. While he sets the story in motion for how Owen affected his life, in his words how Owen "is the reason he believes in God", the biggest problem is that the story does not stay focused on this or, at best, does so in a very roundabout way.

Some of the tales about Owen, and John's mom and grandmother are funny, but the story at times becomes bogged down with an overabundance of details, facts and opinion (from John's vantage point). For instance, many times the narration of the novel seemingly turns into a political expression editorial, such as the times when John fast forwards to 1987 Toronto and begins a critique on President Reagan and his policies or his opinion on the American view of politics. Irving seems to try to tie John's narrative of present day Toronto in with Owen's military service and fate, but it seems forced and unnecessary, and makes the real essence of the story--Owen--take a back seat. There seems to be a temptation--or more than a temptation, because I did it--to skip this part and look ahead to the real story at hand.

There is a difficulty "putting a finger" on this novel because it varies from anything I've ever read, and has a unique quality that perhaps other books don't. The story is somewhat inspirational and eye-opening, somewhat unbelievable, and somewhat humorous.

Still, for the book's purpose, the story of Owen Meany, the book is too long. (I've read longer books with less "fat"). At least one hundred or more pages could have been edited for all the unnecessary ramblings and details and it would still been a thorough depiction of Owen Meany's life and the purpose he served in John's life. Take out all the bologna about Toronto's weather and American politics and this becomes a better book.

This is a pretty interesting book, but I guess I'm in the minority: I've read better.
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42 of 48 people found the following review helpful
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Coincidence is important in John Irving's books, whether it's being parked in the driveway at the wrong time, or finally connecting with that baseball and killing your best friend's mother. Usually I find these plot elements disconcerting, but I must say I was completely swept up with Owen Meany.
I love Irving's use of words and Owen gives him a wonderful vehicle to use this gift. I can hear Owen's voice whenever I read the book, and I have read it several times. I will always remember Owen's description of Johnny Wheelwright's grandmother "screaming like a banshee".
This is a story about a boy with faith so strong he allows it to kill him. But he accepts his fate because he knows he exists for one higher purpose and he accomplishes it. I feel a strange sympathy with Johnny and losing Owen is like losing my best friend as well.
I have re-read this book just to laugh. The humor is wonderful! I always tell myself I'm going to stop before the story turns sad, but I never can. I can't help myself.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on March 15, 2000
Format: Mass Market Paperback
I mean literally, a joy to read. Irving has chosen to tell the life story of the most unlikely hero. Through Owen, a physically insignificant young boy, we learn the value of human life. We see that sometimes the most moral and courageous voices can come from the most unflattering packages. The lives of Owen's peers, his family, and even the authorities that preside over him, are altered drastically, solely because of his presence. The boy questions life, he challenges religion, strikes back at closeminded people, and even manages to tackle Vietnam. The book contains so much truth. It includes all the perfect details of every American's childhood from little league to Christmas pageants. I found some of the funniest literary scenes I've ever encountered, and also some of the most traggic. By the end, Irving instilled in me an incredible appreciation for the community of family. He made me see the world through the eyes of someone who is wrongly ridiculed. And he also somehow made me believe that miracles can happen.
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42 of 49 people found the following review helpful
Format: School & Library Binding
It is one thing to rediscover a classic, a novel that people have enjoyed for years and years. It is another thing to read a book that has just been published and come to the realization that you are holding a classic in your hand. I remember finishing "A Prayer for Owen Meany" for the first time and telling everybody I know, "YOU HAVE TO READ THIS BOOK." John Irving is one of the few authors I buy hardback as soon as a new one comes out and I am truly glad I came to this particular book the way I did.
The book has what is probably my all time favorite opening line, but what struck me the most at the end was how everything came together. The recurring themes, images, events all blend together into a memorable climax. It also has several wickedly funny scenes which just reinforces my earlier conviction that Irving and I have the same sense of humor.
The story is about faith on a personal level, which is intriguing since religion in this country is usually presented on a social level. I think it is also a meditation on the nature of heroism, albeit in a most unusual context.
This book can not be made into a film, so it is not surprising that we ended up with "Simon Birch." Irving could not have solved the problems because they are impossible to solve. The voice of Owen Meany, always presented in the book as CAPITAL LETTERS could never survive the transition from novel to film. You can not capture something like that and you should not even try. The only sad thing is that children seemed to like "Simon Birch" a lot and we can only imagine their shock if they get around to reading the novel.
I think the best way to approach this book is through the earlier efforts of John Irving. Specifically I think that you need to read "The World According to Garp" and "The Cider House" rules before you turn to "Owen Meany." I remembering wondering how Irving got from the fantastic absurdity of "Garp" to the more relentless realism of "Cider House." In retrospect I can see how "Owen Meany" is a synthesis of those earlier works in many regards. I forced my students to read the three books in the order they were written and if you have not read any of them, I would strongly recommend you do so as well.
Every time I introduce a new person to the book I find myself checking in with them: How far have you gotten? What just happened? I also find myself rereading my favorite segments of the book and what better testament can you have to the worth of a book? I know there are some people who will not take to "A Prayer for Owen Meany," but I have yet to find one.
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33 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on April 3, 2012
Format: Paperback
Owen Meany was an unusual boy at least that is how his friends would refer to him. Growing up, he had some disadvantages that others didn't. For one, his voice. Those who heard him would often say his voice could easily get on your nerves. It was child-like, soft and sounded like a cartoon character. In fact it could be said you could tell it was Owen talking just by the sound of his voice. Because it was so low, you either had to be close enough to hear it or ask him to speak louder, and that is exactly what Johnny Wheelwright, his best friend would ask him to do.

Johnny had Owen's voice down pat, and could imitate him if the need should arise, such as reminding his grandmother who Owen was. Being nearly 100 years old, the only way she could remember was when Johnny imitated Owen's voice. Then she would cover her ears and acknowledge that yes, she did remember who he was.

Another disadvantage poor Owen had was he was very small in stature. So small and so lightweight that in school whenever the teacher stepped out of the room, his classmates would take turns lifting him high over their heads and pass him around the class. This, Owen did not like. His change would fall out of his pockets, baseball cards meticulously sorted would become mixed up, and even though they would give everything back to him, he was not happy. In fact, anyone who met Owen, had a desire to pick him up, even parents.

Yet one fateful day would change forever how people perceived Owen and it would change how Johnny viewed God. That would be the day when Owen Meany hit a baseball and killed Johnny's mom.

In the latest novel, A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, the reader is taken back to 1953 with a unique accident would forever change the lives of Johnny Wheelwright and Owen Meany and take them on a journey through their lives. What happens through this unique blend of storytelling in its finest is that Owen sees God in everything, big and small. Even the accident of Johnny's mother who Owen loved dearly is defined by Owen. In fact by the time you get to the end, you, the reader will realize that God is present in so many ways throughout, and you will get one of those "Ah ha!" moments at the end.

I received this book compliments of William Morrow, a division of Harper Collins Publishers for my honest review and LOVED this one! If you loved The Cider House Rules or The World According to Garp, then you will love this one as well since John Irving is also the author of those literary masterpieces. From the first sentence until the last, John masterfully crafts this story to engage the reader and become an advocate for Owen throughout the whole novel. While it hurts to see him picked on in so many ways growing up, you can see that God uses everything that happens in our lives for good and this is Owen's story of how that happens. I highly recommend this book to those who are looking for a great feel good book with purpose and John delivers! I rate this one a 5 out of 5 stars.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on July 11, 2003
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Fiction is not my favorite genre, and what I do read of it tends to be the "classic" stuff: Hemingway, Dostoevsky, Dickens, etc. So, how is it that I'm writing a review of a John Irving novel? Well, I'll also admit a weakness for Irving. There is something wonderfully appealing about the unlikely characters he invents and brings to life. He latches on to the absurd, embraces it with both arms, sets it down before you, and impels you to forge an enduring relationship with it. You come to love his characters. There's something remarkable in what Irving does. He expands you by causing you to love the absurd.
Enter Own Meany. Owen is my favorite among all of Irving's characters (Garp is perhaps second). It is as if Irving had been saving this one all his life, pouring into this one character every contradiction and absurdity he could conjure, then wrapping him up in an impossible little package; and you cannot help but love him.
But this is only the beginning; literally. Irving pulls off something that I can only liken to Dickens in "A Tale of Two Cities". Ivring builds a rich and intricate tapestry around Owen Meany that would itself be worthy of high praise; then he reveals the meaning of that tapestry in a way that I can only describe as haunting. Haunting and beautiful. I literally had dreams about this book after finishing it, it had such a profound effect on me. Irving put magic into this book. Need I add that it is well worth reading?
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