Monday, May 11, 2009

23. A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving

History: The book was first published in 1989. The novel deals with some serious spiritual issues, such as the importance of faith, matters of social justice, and the concept of fate, in the context of an outlandish narrative.
Plot: The novel is told through the eyes of a mature John Wheelwright, an English teacher, who elaborates on the events surrounding his close friendship with Owen Meany during the 1950s and 1960s in a small town and at a private boarding school in New Hampshire.. These events are responsible for his belief in God. He and his mother live with John's grandmother, Harriet, and a wheelchair-bound maid, Lydia. John's paternity is a mystery to him, as his mother refuses to tell any of the family the man's name. Owen Meany becomes attached to John’s mother However, tragedy strikes when Owen hits a foul ball at a Little League game, which kills Tabitha. The ball which killed her disappears, and John assumes Owen took it. After Tabby's death, the whole community is affected, but life goes on.
John begin living with Dan his step-father. He becomes infatuated with his cousin Hester, Owen is in 2 different Christmas plays in which he is affected religiously. Owen has had a dream Soon, the two enter the prep school of Gravesend Academy, Owen with a scholarship and the financial backing of Harriet and John because his stepfather teaches there. John struggles, and Owen is there to help him. Owen takes up smoking and begins dating Hester while becoming 'The Voice', the pen name of his editorial in the school newspaper. This forces him into an antagonistic relationship with the new school headmaster, which ends with Owen being kicked out of school for printing false draft cards and the new headmaster being fired. All through school, Owen and John practice The Shot, a basketball move where John lifts Owen over his head so that he may dunk the basketball. They practice it intermittently over the following years, getting it to under three seconds (eventually).
Throughout the book, an older version of John, in Canada, has gone on massive tirades against the Reagan Administration. His teaching career is going moderately well, but he still struggles with his past life.
Review: Owen Meany is a great character, a man whom you wish you knew and hung out with, and the novel is driven by the merits of his palpable soul. This is a book about the interconnectedness of things and the importance of seemingly meaningless details and the yielding nature of true friendship, and how everything plays a part in recognizing a larger force and ultimate plan. There are always pitfalls and disasters, but these too play a part in the eventual logic of events. I think this is what all people want from faith -- a feeling that the seemingly senseless indignities of life ultimately serve the higher purpose of educating the soul. Like life, nothing in this book makes any particular sense until later in the book when it all falls gracefully together into a whole that means more than the sum of its parts. Despite being chosen by God, Owen Meany is still totally human -- he smokes, he drinks beer, he has turbulent relationships, he's grouchy and sarcastic. In short, he's just like us, a symbol of the Godliness in every man that we may or may not be concerned with. This book is like an American quilt in which faith is assembled from things familiar and tangible -- basic morality, a sense of predestination, faith in faith. It gives the heart a place to roll up safely and relax.
Opening Line: “ I may write a better first sentence to a novel than that of A Prayer for Owen Meany, but I doubt it.”
Closing Line: “O God – please give him back! I shall keep asking you.”
Quotes: "Rituals are comforting; rituals combat loneliness.”
“…it was such a ridiculous thing for him to want to do—for someone his size to set himself the challenge of soaring and reaching so high…it was just silliness, and I tired of the mindless, repetitive choreography.”

Rating: Very Good

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