A Prayer for Owen Meany

Irving, John. A Prayer for Owen Meany. Read by Joe Barrett. Michigan: Brilliance Audio, 2009

Reason read: Even though most of A Prayer for Owen Meany does not take place in Canada I am reading this in honor of September being the best time to visit Toronto.

I don’t know where to begin with a review for A Prayer for Owen Meany. I have been driving to and from work everyday, listening to this incredible tale about a boy named Owen for a month now and I’ve been thinking there is no way I can sum this up story succinctly. Like other Irving tales, this is multifaceted and wrought with symbolism. As an adult living as an ex-pat in Toronto, Canada Johnny Wheelwright remembers his childhood and best friend, Owen Meany. They grew up together in the fictional seaside town of Gravesend, New Hampshire. To describe Owen as special is as inadequate as saying the Grand Canyon is “big”. There is so much more to Owen and his story from every angle. For starters, there is his size (barely five feet) and his voice (high-pitched and distinct). Then, there is his personal belief that is he is an instrument of God. Even when he accidentally hits Johnny’s mother with a line drive baseball, killing her instantly, he believes it was meant to happen that way. Owen is smart, witty, kind and considerate, but you can’t sway him from his political or religious beliefs (don’t get him started on John F Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe or later, the Vietnam war). I don’t want to spoil the story except to say you can’t help but fall in love with Owen and be shocked by the outrageous things he does.

My favorite scene was when Owen asks his dad to take him and Johnny to the beach in the middle of the night. The image of Owen banging on the cab of the truck, urging his father to drive faster will always stay with me.

Author fact: According to Irving’s website his birth name was Blunt but changed to Irving after his mom remarried.

Book trivia: the movie “Simon Birch” is based on A Prayer for Owen Meany but because the film is so dissimilar to the book Irving asked that the title and names of characters be different as well.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter “Lines That Linger; Sentences That Stick” (p 142). The line (or sentence) Pearl is referring to from A Prayer for Owen Meany is the opening sentence, “I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice – not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.”

As an aside: I love John Irving’s work so much I thought Pearl should have included a “Too Good To Miss” chapter for him.

Widow for One Year

Irving, John. A Widow For One Year. Read by George Guidall. New York: Random House Audio, 1998.

While meandering at times A Widow For One Year follows the life of Ruth Cole. In Part One it is 1958 and Ruth is only four years old. The plot doesn’t necessarily focus on Ruth at this point but rather on her Long Island parents – their endless grief over the accidental death of their teenage sons and the bitter end of their tumultuous marriage. Ruth’s father is a celebrated author of books for children, a closet alcoholic and a raging adulterer. He wants to divorce Ruth’s mother, Marion, but he first needs to make sure he’ll win the custody battle over Ruth. Given his drinking (he can’t even drive due to too many dui arrests) and sexual conquests outside the marriage he needs Marion to have an indiscretion of her own to level the playing field. Enter Eddie O’Hare, a sixteen year old high school student from Philips Exeter Academy. Ted hires Eddie to be his writing assistant for the summer but really Eddie is supposed to seduce Marion. It’s Eddie who I like the best in this part one. He plays the fool perfectly (oh, but what a sweet and pretty fool). Unwittingly he is a pawn for both Ted and Marion.
In Part Two Ruth, at thirty-six, is an accomplished writer living in New York. The section begins with the very same Eddie O’Hare. He is in town to introduce Ruth at one of her readings. While their paths cross only briefly at this point in the story Ruth is enlightened by Eddie’s memories of her mother. She begins to see her parent’s divorce in a whole new perspective. Before leaving for a European book tour Eddie gives Ruth a murder mystery he thinks was written by Marion. While in Amsterdam Ruth is witness to the murder of a window prostitute from the red light district.
This sets in motion Part Three which, in the beginning, focuses mostly on the murder of the prostitute from five years earlier. The lead chief inspector has a conundrum. While he was able to solve the murder he now wants to find the witness. The story jumps back fill in the story of the prostitute (which could have been a whole separate book). I don’t want to spoil the end except to say it’s nice that Irving brought the story full circle.

Favorite lines: “There are few things as seemingly untouched by the real world as a child asleep” (p 151). Don’t you love the image of that? Another favorite line, “I appear to have an old disease to share” (p 324).

As an aside, Ruth’s attitude about her American fans reminded me of how Natalie Merchant reacts to autograph signings and picture taking with her American fans. Both Ruth and Natalie are more comfortable with their European fans.

Reason read: John Irving celebrates a birthday in March, on the 18th…or so I’ve read on LibraryThing.

Author fact: John Irving was not an author Nancy Peal included in her “Too Good to Miss” chapters. Too bad because he should have been. He has written some amazing stuff.

Book trivia: The 2004 film adaptation of A Widow For One Year was “A Door in the Floor.” Note to self: put this on my movie list.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Wayward Wives” (p 232). I think Pearl got it wrong. Yes, the wife is wayward but her situation is completely more understandable than her husband’s. I think her husband is despicable. But, another thing: the book isn’t really about the wayward wife or husband.