Review: A Prayer for Owen Meany


“A Prayer for Owen Meany,” by John Irving, (William Morrow, 1989) packs a punch. Friendship, love and ironclad faith characterize one of the most unusual fictional characters I’ve had the pleasure of meeting.

Owen Meany is small for his 11 years, with a voice “not entirely of this world,” “a strangled, emphatic falsetto,” that sounds like a scream and is always written in capital letters. His big opinions and commanding personality more than make up for his missing inches.

The book is narrated by his best friend, Johnny Wheelwright. When they are boys in 1953 (not a spoiler, it’s on the back cover), Owen hits a foul ball at a Little League game that kills Johnny’s mother.

The rest of the book is divided between snippets from adult John’s life and flashbacks to the years following “the incident,” as Johnny and Owen’s bond remains undiminished even as family dynamics change and the Vietnam War encroaches.

Unbeknownst to his best friend, Owen is preparing for his destiny, a fate he sees spelled out in the unlikeliest of places.

Through a story that is soaked in the mystery of the divine, Irving shows how doubt is the essence of faith, not its enemy — and the most painful parts of life can lead us to the ultimate truth.

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