After trying to read The Last Chairlift and getting through about half of the way, I remembered that I had read A Prayer for Owen Meany a long time ago, probably when it first came out in 1989. I remembered that I thought it was a remarkable book, I remembered it was about a boy, and that’s about it.
A Prayer for Owen Meany has a print length of 1,115 pages. This explains why I have seemingly not been reading lately, or at least publishing book reviews. The fact is, it takes forever to read Owen Meany.
The story is about two best childhood friends, and it starts in a small town in New Hampshire in 1953, when the boys are 11 years old. John Wheelwright is the narrator, but his best friend, Owen Meany, is the protagonist. Owen, in a stroke of terrible bad luck, hits a foul ball in a Little League game and kills John’s mother who is among the spectators. Owen does not think this was an accident. He thinks he is God’s instrument.
The story follows the two boys and their friends and family through their coming of age and into adulthood. It weaves a rich tapestry of characters, and when the book finally ends, you will miss them all and the world in which they have been living. After all, you’ll have been spending a lot of time with them.
A Prayer for Owen Meany is a treatise about religion in American society. But it is also about the Vietnam war and the plight that generation of young men went through to deal with the draft and what it did to their lives and American society.
Irving likes to portray unique characters, and there are some similarities across his books. For instance, the protagonist in The Last Chairlift was “very small” as was his mother. Irving has something about small people. Owen Meany is also very small, very light. As an adult, he is just under five feet tall. Also, due to some congenital defect in his larynx, he has a very gravelly, out of this world sounding voice. His voice is so unique, that throughout the entire book, all direct quotes spoken by Owen are done in capitals. “YOUR MOM HAS THE BEST BREASTS OF ALL THE MOMS,” Owen would say to his friend John when they were 11 years old and analyzing — well — what boys that age are interested in. You will get used to Owen’s capitalized voice quickly and it works well in this book.
Besides his highly unusual voice, and his extreme smallness, Owen is brilliant. He gains the respect of the adults around him through his actions and statements, and he tends to command the attention wherever he is present. Needless to say, he is the valedictorian in his class, and eventually joins the U.S. Army through the ROTC program.
Owen, who thinks he is an instrument of God, believes he has a mission in Vietnam, and all his actions and decisions throughout his life seem to point to a single day in Vietnam – where his purpose lies.