A Prayer for Owen Meany (1989)

by John Irving

Owen Meany thought he was God’s instrument—and by the end of this novel, readers have been given no reason to think he was deluded.

Diminutive, falsetto-voiced Owen is the best friend of John Wheelwright—even after he causes the accidental death of John’s mother. They grow up together in fictional Gravesend, New Hampshire—John the son of an unwed mother but descendant of the town’s elite, Owen the son of a granite quarryman. In a story that jumps between their past and John’s present-day life as an expatriate living in Toronto, John slowly relates why Owen is the reason he believes in God.

Owen believes his fate has been prophesied. As a child acting in a production of A Christmas Carol, he “sees” his name and date of death on Scrooge’s tombstone. He dreams that he will die saving children. Owen enlists in the army as the Vietnam War is escalating and expects his destiny to be fulfilled in Southeast Asia. The circumstances of his hero’s death, as well as a couple of postmortem episodes in which John suspects Owen’s hand is at work, convince John that his friend’s self-identity wasn’t imagined.

As much as A Prayer for Owen Meany is a novel about friendship, faith, and fate, it is also about politics. In fact, Irving is preachier in his antiwar, anti-American policy stance than he is about religion, but no one but an extremist is likely to be turned off. Typical of Irving and his mentor Charles Dickens, there is some outlandishness, a leisurely pace, comedy and tragedy, and a wide swath of humanity in this novel. It’s a favorite of Irving's fans.


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