A Prayer For Owen Meany by John Irving
I am doomed to remember a boy . . .
Apparently John Irving has a thing for first sentences. He said he never writes the first sentence until he’s written the last sentence. Obviously he’s onto something . . .
“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 is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.”
Not bad, right?
A Prayer for Owen Meany. What a book! Can I call it a modern classic? Yep, I can. I looked it up. I asked Wikipedia.
“A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.”
When you’ve reached the end you’ll see—Owen Meany will never be finished with what he has to say.
“’TIME!’ The janitor stopped the clock.
“That was when I would turn to look; usually our time had expired.
“But this time, when I looked, there was one second left on the clock.
“He had sunk the shot in under four seconds!
“’YOU SEE WHAT A LITTLE FAITH CAN DO?’ said Owen Meany. The brain-damaged janitor was applauding. ‘SET THE CLOCK TO THREE SECONDS!’ Owen told him.
“’Jesus Christ!’ I said.
“’IF WE CAN DO IT IN UNDER FOUR SECONDS, WE CAN DO IT IN UNDER THREE,” he said. ‘IT JUST TAKES A LITTLE MORE FAITH.’
‘”It takes more practice,’ I told him irritably.
“’FAITH TAKES PRACTICE,’ said Owen Meany.”
See? Like I said—what a book! I’ve never read anything like it. Ever. Written (quite convincingly) as the memoir of 40-something John Wheelwright, we meet Johnny and his best childhood friend, Owen Meany, as young boys in the 1950’s. From the first sentence of the book we learn that Owen is special. He’s little. No—not little—tiny. His voice, WRITTEN THROUGHOUT THE BOOK IN ALL CAPS TO SHOW HOW PAINFUL IT IS TO HEAR, is odd. He (accidently) killed Johnny’s mother. And he was convinced he was Gods instrument. He was also a hero, but you’ve got to read to the very last page to find out exactly why.
And that is both the charm and the curse of A Prayer for Owen Meany—getting to the end. Don’t get me wrong, I love thick books. I measure the time it takes me to read in hours, not days . . . never in weeks. The first 1/3 of Owen Meany was fabulous. Charming is the best word, I think. It’s completely seriously and hilariously funny—at the same time. The last 1/3 went from emotionally moving to heartbreaking-I’ll-never-forget-powerful by the end. But that middle third is best described as . . .boring. Seriously, I almost didn’t make it. Maybe that’s why they call it a modern classic?
Now that I’ve closed the cover, I see why the stuff in the middle was important. But man, did it drag! It took me three weeks to get through it. Once I finished, was easy to consider the thick parts (and I don’t just mean a lot of pages) as sowing so that I could reap the reward that was the last third.
Thank you Owen, it’s been a pleasure. Thank you John Wheelwright Irving for sharing him. Please be warned that there are instances of bad language and coming-of-age discussions of sex. Other than that, I hope you’ll find Owen Meany as marvelous as I did!
O God—please give him back! I shall keep asking You.