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Friday, March 16, 2007

A Prayer for Owen Meany

by John Irving
Some books are harder to read than others; some books have a bigger payback than others. Even though it took me 15 days to read this book and there were times I thought I'd never finish, I really enjoyed A Prayer for Owen Meany.

The main character, Owen Meany, is unforgettable. Everything about Owen grabs your attention: his size, HIS VOICE, his determination, his faith, his life and his death. Owen's best friend, the narrator, plays a supporting role in the story and, even though he seems bland, he is very necessary to the story and to Owen's life and heroism.

This book has 'classic' written all over it. Irving is an excellent writer. At one point in the book Owen tells his best friend, ". . . any good book is always in motion - from the general to the specific, from the particular to the whole, and back again. Good reading - and good writing about reading - moves the same way." Irving writes like that. From the first sentence we know that Owen was instrumental in his best friend's mother's death. The specifics come later. Early on we learn that Owen Meany is going to die, but we don't learn the specifics until the last few pages of the book.

A few passages that I made note of. There are quite a few. Don't feel like you have to read them all. I write these because I want to read over them again someday, not to bore people.
We don't enjoy giving directions in New Hampshire - we tend to think that if you don't know where you're going, you don't belong where you are.
Your memory is a monster; you forget - it doesn't. It simply files things away. It keeps things for you, or hides things from you - and summons them to your recall with a will of its own. You think you have a memory; but it has you.
Mr. Merrill was most appealing because he reassured us that doubt was the essence of faith, and not faith's opposite.
Rev. Mr. Wiggin's sermons were about as entertaining and convincing as a pilot's voice in the intercom, explaining technical difficulties while the plane plummets toward the earth and the stewardesses are screaming.
They were a couple with a theme - sadly, it was their only theme, and a small theme, and they overplayed it. (we all know people like this, don't we?)
What do Americans know about morality? They don't want their presidents to have penises but they don't mind if their presidents covertly arrange to support the Nicaraguan rebel forces after Congress has restricted such aid; they don't want their president to deceive their wives but they don't mind if their presidents deceive Congress - lie to the people and violate the people's constitution!
THE DISCIPLES ARE STUPID - THEY NEVER UNDERSTAND WHAT JESUS MEANS, THEY'RE A BUNCH OF BUNGLERS, THEY DON'T BELIEVE IN GOD AS MUCH AS THEY WANT TO BELIEVE, AND THEY EVEN BETRAY JESUS. THE POINT IS, GOD DOESN'T LOVE US BECAUSE WE'RE SMART OR BECAUSE WE'RE GOOD. WE'RE STUPID AND WE'RE BAD AND GOD LOVES US ANYWAY. (This is Owen speaking. He always speaks in capital letters because he has a unique, gravely voice.)
This is a NY Times Newspaper heading, May 30, 1987.
Reagan Declares
Firmness on Gulf;
Plans Are Unclear
Thanks to my daughter, Alyson, for recommending this book. It took me a while, but I finally got to it. I can see why it's your favorite - so much symbolism, foreshadowing, meaty characters, and very good writing. There is a lot to think about with this book. And I'll be thinking about it for a long time.

22 comments:

jenclair said...

I've never read this, but now I want to! I especially liked the quote about memory, Cheya. It is so accurate. Great review!

Literary Feline said...

I keep going back and forth about wanting to read this one. There's quite a varied opinion of the book out there. Thanks for the review!

Framed said...

I'll add my recommendation for this book. It's unforgetable. Great reveiw, booklogged. It's good to renew acquaintance with a great book.

DJ said...

Wonderful quotes! I've had this sitting on the shelves for years, but your post makes me want to move it to a prominent spot on the TBR pile.

heidijane said...

I read this book a little while ago and thoroughly enjoyed it! Thanks for the review!

Lynne said...

I'm definitely in the minority here. I just didn't like this book. I couldn't work up an interest in the characters. In fact, the only part I liked at all was the end. A vanilla/chocolate thing.

iliana said...

It's been such a long time since I've read this book but I still claim it as one of my all time favorites. I remember crying at the end of it.

G Elliott said...

I read this years ago and loved it - it is one of those love it or hate it books, there is no middle ground.

I then went on to read his other works and really enjoyed them as well.

Alyson said...

I'm really glad you enjoyed it. I'm always a little scared to recommend a book, because I don't want someone to be disappointed in my suggestion. That's especially true with this book because it is my favorite book.

I liked what you said at the beginning of your review. I am a true believer in reading for enjoyment, but I think (at least for myself) that it's good to read a book that challenges us occasionally. The challenging books remain with me longer and usually have "a bigger payback".

Les said...

This is one of my lifetime favorites. I've read it two times and could easily read it several more times. So many wonderful quotes. Did you enjoy the humor? I laughed myself silly during the first half when they were kids.

booklogged said...

Jenclair, It's a bit differernt than the average book, but that's what makes it so interesting. I'd love to hear your thoughts if you read it.

Feline, after reading the book I can understand why people have varied opinions.

Framed, It is unforgettable, isn't it?

DJ, If your TBR pile is like mine, the top book keeps changing. They are so hard to manage, aren't they?

Heidijane, thanks for the visit and the comment.

Lynne, I like that description - a vanilla/chocolate thing. At least you know what the book is all about.

Iliana, the ending was fabulous, but definitely a tear-jerker.

G Elliott, I may read another of his, but I've heard this was one of the best.

Alyson, I appreciate the recommendation. I'm so glad I read it.

Les, This book was so funny and so sad. A lot to think about. Have you heard of the movie Simon Birch? It's based on this book. Not as good as the book, though, but still worth watching.

Wendy said...

I adore John Irving (Hotel New Hampshire is probably my favorite of his novels)...but, I have never read *this* book; and I can't believe I haven't. But I will...very soon :)

Melissa said...

My husband is a huge John Irving fan (I think we own all of his books; if not all then most). He likes this one best, but also really likes Cider House Rules, too. Though, he admits, John Irving isn't for everyone.

Glad you enjoyed it. It's the only Irving I've ever read, and I'm glad I did.

BTW, I've tagged you as a thinking blogger... :)

Stephanie said...

I enjoyed reading this book a few years back and remember cracking up during the nativity scene. Thanks for the review!
Stephanie
www.thewrittenword.wordpress.com

Lesley said...

I've read a couple Irving books and really enjoyed them, but haven't tried this one yet. It seems to be a favorite of many book bloggers so perhaps I'll read it someday!

Framed said...

I've read other John Irvings and didn't like them nearly as well as Owen Meany. I think he must be a very interesting person though to come up with the stories he writes.

Tristi Pinkston said...

Okay, I think I'll have to give in and read this one. Framed got me thinking about it and I'm caving . . caving . . .

hellomelissa said...

oooh! i would have never chosen this book but you make it sound so rewarding!

Wendy said...

I finished reading this book for The Saturday Review of Books Challenge (based on *your* review!). I loved this book - and agree totally with your review. If you are interested, you can read my review here.

eki.taurian said...

I just finished this book for my English class, I really loved it!

And I recommend you to watch a movie called Simon Birch if you haven't already..
this movie is inspired by A Prayer for Owen Meany.
It is a really good movie
:)

Anonymous said...

Put in page numbers next time...........

Anonymous said...

I have three copies of this book. I give them out for others to read (ok, I insist they read it)My first and original copy has no cover since I have read it 30plus times. I ADORE this book. The first time I read it? Took me two days. Best damn book I have ever read, and I read alot.