Today, readers, we travel to Canada for the book that comes in at second place on my Most Loved list: A Prayer for Owen Meany.
The majority of the action takes place in the United States as John Wheelwright, currently residing in Canada, tells the life story of his best friend, Owen Meany. From the outset, the reader knows that Owen is dead, and the novel is spent explaining the what led him to his grave. Owen is a peculiar character. Underdeveloped, with a high-pitched shout for a voice, Owen makes his way through life by embracing his differences and accepting the role he believes God has given to him.
I cannot begin to explain why I love this book so much. As I read it, I felt a profound connection to Owen that I hadn’t felt with any character in a previous novel. There was something innocent and noble about him that I admired. My favorite quote, and a favorite of many of my classmates was, “I want to be a teacher. I’m just a reader.”
“DON’T SOUND SO ASHAMED. READING IS A GIFT… IT DOESN’T MATTER WHERE YOU LEARNED IT- IT’S A GIFT.”
What inspiring words! I’ve often felt, as I trudge through my studies, that maybe I have it all wrong. I’m just a reader. Whenever I feel this way, I remember Owen’s words. Reading is a gift.
As far as themes go, A Prayer of Owen Meany is full of religious symbolism, anti-war themes, and a motif of the Angel of Death. The religious symbolism is what interested me most. Owen believes that he is God’s instrument and many situations in the novel seem to point towards this being true. Owen seems to be a harbinger of death, yet he brings happiness to many characters, showing the complexity of his role and beliefs in his purpose.
An excerpt from my first journal entry on this novel:
“As I began to flip through A Prayer for Owen Meany, the first thing that struck me was Owen’s voice. Without having ever heard it, I feel as if I know exactly what it sounds like, and it suits him perfectly as a child. There’s no way you can’t notice Owen, even in reading about him. At the end of the first reading, I found myself so focused on Owen, who he was, what he would become, and how he felt, that I couldn’t remember the name of the narrator. I think that Irving mastered the art of making the protagonist a character other than the narrator.
Owen’s fascination with John’s stuffed armadillo is interesting to me. I think it stands for the boys’ friendship and almost familial bond, but its peculiarity seems to be a reflection of Owen, which he realizes. Sometimes, it might appear that the armadillo is more important to Owen than John is, but when John’s mother dies, we see that that isn’t true. Dan Needham’s explanation of Owen’s forgiveness ritual is insightful, and I find myself even more drawn to Owen’s character because he possesses such a tender and complex spirit. He keeps the claws to show that they’ve both lost their means of support. They’re lost.
I wished at the moment Owen’s hit struck John’s mother that Owen was the narrator. I wanted to know exactly how he was feeling. From the outside, he killed his best friend’s mother, but she was so much more than that to him. She was practically his own mother. He stayed at their house, she picked him up, dropped him off, invited him on outings, and took a vested interest in his education and general well-being. Owen’s own mother lives locked away in a house. We haven’t gotten to see inside his home life yet, but I can’t imagine it’s particularly pleasant or stimulating for a young boy. I can honestly say that Owen is one of the most memorable character I have encountered, and I’m eager to know how he will continue to impact John’s life.”
Would I recommend this? Absolutely. Without reservation. It received rave reviews by my classmates and has been a favorite of students in the course for several years. It is, as one student described it, “a delight.”