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A Prayer for Owen Meany [Paperback]

John Irving
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (920 customer reviews)
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Book Description

May 1 1990
'If you care about something you have to protect it. If you're lucky enough to find a way of life you love, you have to find the courage to live it'. Eleven-year-old Owen Meany, playing in a Little League baseball game in Gravesend, New Hampshire, hits a foul ball and kills his best friend's mother. Owen doesn't believe in accidents; he believes he is God's instrument. What happens to Owen after that 1953 foul ball is both extraordinary and terrifying.

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From Amazon

Owen Meany is a dwarfish boy with a strange voice who accidentally kills his best friend's mom with a baseball and believes--accurately--that he is an instrument of God, to be redeemed by martyrdom. John Irving's novel, which inspired the 1998 Jim Carrey movie Simon Birch, is his most popular book in Britain, and perhaps the oddest Christian mystic novel since Flannery O'Connor's work. Irving fans will find much that is familiar: the New England prep-school-town setting, symbolic amputations of man and beast, the Garp-like unknown father of the narrator (Owen's orphaned best friend), the rough comedy. The scene of doltish the doltish headmaster driving a trashed VW down the school's marble staircase is a marvelous set piece. So are the Christmas pageants Owen stars in. But it's all, as Highlights magazine used to put it, "fun with a purpose." When Owen plays baby Jesus in the pageants, and glimpses a tombstone with his death date while enacting A Christmas Carol, the slapstick doesn't cancel the fact that he was born to be martyred. The book's countless subplots add up to a moral argument, specifically an indictment of American foreign policy--from Vietnam to the Contras.

The book's mystic religiosity is steeped in Robertson Davies's Deptford trilogy, and the fatal baseball relates to the fatefully misdirected snowball in the first Deptford novel, Fifth Business. Tiny, symbolic Owen echoes the hero of Irving's teacher Günter Grass's The Tin Drum--the two characters share the same initials. A rollicking entertainment, Owen Meany is also a meditation on literature, history, and God. --Tim Appelo --This text refers to the Mass Market Paperback edition.

From Publishers Weekly

Irving's storytelling skills have gone seriously astray in this contrived, preachy, tedious tale of the eponymous Owen Meany, a latter-day prophet and Christ-like figure who dies a martyr after having inspired true Christian belief in the narrator, Johnny Wheelwright. The boys grow up close friends in a small New Hampshire town, where Owen's loutish parents own a quarry and where the fatherless Johnny, whose beloved mother never reveals the secret of his paternity, becomes an orphan at age 11 when a foul ball hit by Owen in a Little League game strikes his mother on the head, killing her instantly. The tragedy notwithstanding, Owen and Johnny cleave to a friendship sealed when Owen uses desperate means to keep Johnny from going to Vietnam, and brought to its apotheosis when Johnny is present at the death Owen has seen prefigured in a vision. Despite the overworked theme of a boy's best friend causing his mother's injury or death (one thinks immediately of Robertson Davies and Nancy Willard), the plot might have been workable had not Irving made Owen a caricature: Owen is, all his life, so tiny he can be lifted with one hand; he is "mortally cute," and he has a "cartoon voice" because he must shout through his nose, which Irving conveys by printing all of Owen's dialogue in capital lettersan irritating device that immediately sets the reader's teeth on edge. Then too, the author's portentously dramatic foreshadowing, which has worked well in his previous books, is here sadly overdone and excessively melodramatic. On the plus side, Irving is convincing in his appraisal of the tragedy of Vietnam and in his religious philosophizing, in which he distinguishes the true elements of faith. But that is not enough to save the meandering narrative. Owen is not the only one to hit a foul ball in this novel, which is too "mortally cute" for its own good. BOMC main selection.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My favorite book of all times June 21 2004
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I have read many, many books, and I have never found one that I like better than Owen Meany. I have read it over and over, and I still end with the same question in mind: Did Irving know the ending when he started the book? The most minor things in the story make the ending happen when they all come together. When you first read it, how could you know that the pracice of that basketball shot could mean so much? I am sorry to hear that Irving is going to re-write his current book. I can hardly wait for every one he writes, but Owen is a the top of the list.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars His mostly deeply felt if not best paced June 20 2004
By S Page
Format:Mass Market Paperback
The worn-out narrator lets the tempo down compared with the brilliant third-person narration of, e.g., "The Cider House Rules", but the trade-off is the emotional intensity goes up. Irving is great and this is one of his best.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Lacks faith April 3 2000
By A Customer
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I am perplexed as to how anyone can give this book a five star review. The premise at the beginning is that Owen Meany's friend (who tells the story) learns faith. As a child he lacks it and at the end of the book as an adult he possesses even less. Owen has little to no faith either in his life, except for his significant purpose that does realistically in the end attach him to God and faith and purpose. But he fails to inspire Johnny onto any real faith of his own. My guess is John Irving doesn't know enough about faith to write about it convincingly. Great lengths of this novel -- and totally irrelevant to the story line -- are committed to a liberal bash of Ronald Reagan, too. If that inspires the reader, go for it. But once again I was more impressed that Irving didn't know what he was talking about. Another dislike was Irving's tendency toward perversity in every scene of action. Once or twice okay, but the barage created redundancy and detracted from some otherwise good storytelling. I was very disappointed in the quality.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Disappointed in a repetitive story Dec 19 2001
Format:Mass Market Paperback
Friends at work raved about this book. Having read other books by John Irving (Hotel New Hampshire, World According to Garp) and enjoying other books these friends had recommended, I thought it might be interesting. Irving's style wasn't exactly what I normally read, but the books of his I'd read so far certainly had interesting stories.
Unfortunately, A Prayer for Owen Meany struck me as repetitive. The same plot points were repeated several times. There were a few sections that were interesting and/or funny. I kept reading, hoping that the story would pick up, or, at least, stop repeating, but it never happened. I kept going, based on the recommendations. After reading about half of the book, I just had to stop. I decided I'd rather spend what little time I have to read recreationally reading a more interesting book.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Irving's most readable novel Oct. 1 2004
Format:Paperback
Irving's writing is often long on description and short on plot, but in "Owen Meany" we do get a chance to move forward and it is an enjoyable journey all the way.
"Owen Meany" is the story of an odd but heroic child who manages to have an impact in some very profound ways. His life, in the end, touches others in ways that are both concrete and abstract, but always interesting. As always, Irving's characterization is his strong-suit and here he makes us care about everyone on the page. Like life itself, his characters journey through moments of warmth, frustration, joy, humor and defeat. Their stories are always dramatic and Irving shows that he has the ability to put himself into the minds of children realistically, while never alienating his adult reader.
The themes here are not hard to find and, as such, some might consider Irving too obvious and simple to be a master of literature. But Irving redeems himself with his eloquence, his knowledge of the human condition and his evocative depiction of the environment surrounding his players.
I admit to having been turned off at times by Irving's "Cider House Rules" and "The World According to Garp", and both "Setting Free the Bears" and "Son of the Circus" moved so slowly and floridly that I have left them each unfinished twice. I hate to admit it, but both of the first two books were probably better as loosely translated movies. Owen Meany is different. It is a story which happens as much inside of a community and its characters as in any visible sense. It translated so poorly into a movie that I won't even tell you the atrocious replacement name they gave to it (although I will hint that Ashley Judd played a radiant young mother in it).
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5.0 out of 5 stars An Amazing Book! June 3 2004
By Jessie
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I read this book for the first time when I was 14 years old, and it has been one of my absolute favorites ever since. Owen Meany is an extraordinary boy who is convinced that he is God's Instrument. To his friend John, Owen's claims are bewildering at best. Owen insists that the foul ball that killed John's mother is much more than a tragic accident. While acting in A Christmas Carol, he says that he had a vision fortelling his own death. According to Owen, his dreams impel him to enlist in the Army during the Vietnam War. John is often exasperated by Owen's strange spirituality, but he tolerates his best friend's often inexplicable behavior. Ultimately, Owen's seemingly bizarre actions provide John with the personal faith he has always lacked.
John Irving is such a talented writer. I've read several of his novels, but this is my favorite Irving book. I love the quirky characters as well as Irving's distinctive style and humor. The Christmas pageant scenes are hilarious! If you read them in a public place, prepare to be stared at by strangers! Since I was an English major in college, I also chuckle at the scene in which Owen is telling John about Tess of the D'Urbevilles and says he should major in English because "YOU DON'T HAVE TO DO ANYTHING TO BE AN ENGLISH MAJOR." For some reason, that always makes me smile.
I've loaned this book to several of my friends over the years, and I've ended up having to buy new copies for myself because they won't return it to me. I highly recommend it!
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars I loved this book.
This book had been recommended to me years ago but I had never gotten around to reading it. I'm not religious at all but Irving's message did not feel like proselytizing. Read more
Published 6 months ago by Sandy in Chapala
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book
This is the only book I have read by this author, so I can't say anything about his other works, but this book was very good and I highly recommend it even if you are not a fan of... Read more
Published 12 months ago by Joe
5.0 out of 5 stars Canadian Writers Are The Best
One of the best books of all time. Great writer great read. Good delivery fast and secure thank you for the book sir.
Published 13 months ago by Anne Bottiglieri
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect!!!!!!!
I LOVED LOVED LOVED A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I buy it for every friend. It made me laugh so much and it made me smile all the time. Read more
Published 14 months ago by suzy7
5.0 out of 5 stars Top all time favourite
I am an avid reader of literary fiction. I just finished The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. (which is very good) to give an example. Read more
Published 20 months ago by Gail Christoff
5.0 out of 5 stars swift clean with no "oldy" odors
Read about three pages when I realized that the movie "simon Birch" was adapted from this book. this is one instance when I can say the movie was as good as the book. Read more
Published 23 months ago by L. clarke
5.0 out of 5 stars A thought-provoking story - my first book by Irving but it won't be my...
A Prayer for Owen Meany is told in the first-person by Johnny Wheelwright, the illegitimate son of Tabitha Wheelwright who comes from a well-to-do family in Gravesend, New... Read more
Published on July 12 2012 by Darlene
4.0 out of 5 stars liked the book about topics I hate
This book is religious, political, involves war and is very long. All of those things I don't like but I liked this book. Read more
Published on May 25 2010 by A. Jacques
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my favorite books of all time
Here are my two cents worth about this book. I firmly believe that reading this book changed my life. It certainly changed my opinions about John Irving. Read more
Published on Nov. 23 2009 by V. Hudson
1.0 out of 5 stars 1 star is too high...
Sorry to go against everyone who rated this book ten, but this is by far, without a doubt the WORST book i have ever read. The plot is awful. Read more
Published on March 25 2008 by Jim Bag
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