A Prayer for Owen Meany

( 405 )

Overview

In the summer of 1953, two eleven-year-old boys - best friends - are playing in a Little League baseball game in Gravesend, New Hampshire. One of the boys hits a foul ball that kills the other boy's mother. The boy who hits the ball doesn't believe in accidents; Owen Meany believes he is God's instrument. What happens to Owen, after that 1953 foul ball, is extraordinary and terrifying.

In the summer of 1953, during a Little League baseball game, 11-year-old Owen ...

See more details below
Paperback (Mass Market Paperback)
$7.99
BN.com price

Pick Up In Store

Reserve and pick up in 60 minutes at your local store

Other sellers (Paperback)
  • All (19) from $3.55   
  • New (9) from $3.92   
  • Used (10) from $3.55   
A Prayer for Owen Meany

Available on NOOK devices and apps  
  • NOOK Devices
  • NOOK HD/HD+ Tablet
  • NOOK
  • NOOK Color
  • NOOK Tablet
  • Tablet/Phone
  • NOOK for Windows 8 Tablet
  • NOOK for iOS
  • NOOK for Android
  • NOOK Kids for iPad
  • PC/Mac
  • NOOK for Windows 8
  • NOOK for PC
  • NOOK for Mac
  • NOOK Study
  • NOOK for Web

Want a NOOK? Explore Now

NOOK Book (eBook)
$7.99
BN.com price
Marketplace
BN.com

All Available Formats & Editions

Overview

In the summer of 1953, two eleven-year-old boys - best friends - are playing in a Little League baseball game in Gravesend, New Hampshire. One of the boys hits a foul ball that kills the other boy's mother. The boy who hits the ball doesn't believe in accidents; Owen Meany believes he is God's instrument. What happens to Owen, after that 1953 foul ball, is extraordinary and terrifying.

In the summer of 1953, during a Little League baseball game, 11-year-old Owen Meany hits a foul ball that kills his best friend's mother. What happens to him after that fateful day makes A Prayer for Owen Meany extraordinary, terrifying, and unforgettable.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Los Angeles Times Book Review
"Roomy, intelligent, exhilarating and darkly comic ... Dickensian in scope .... Quite stunning and very ambitious."
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Irving's storytelling skills have gone seriously astray in this contrived, preachy, tedious tale of the eponymous Owen Meany, a latter-day prophet and Christ-like figure who dies a martyr after having inspired true Christian belief in the narrator, Johnny Wheelwright. The boys grow up close friends in a small New Hampshire town, where Owen's loutish parents own a quarry and where the fatherless Johnny, whose beloved mother never reveals the secret of his paternity, becomes an orphan at age 11 when a foul ball hit by Owen in a Little League game strikes his mother on the head, killing her instantly. The tragedy notwithstanding, Owen and Johnny cleave to a friendship sealed when Owen uses desperate means to keep Johnny from going to Vietnam, and brought to its apotheosis when Johnny is present at the death Owen has seen prefigured in a vision. Despite the overworked theme of a boy's best friend causing his mother's injury or death one thinks immediately of Robertson Davies and Nancy Willard, the plot might have been workable had not Irving made Owen a caricature: Owen is, all his life, so tiny he can be lifted with one hand; he is ``mortally cute,'' and he has a ``cartoon voice'' because he must shout through his nose, which Irving conveys by printing all of Owen's dialogue in capital lettersan irritating device that immediately sets the reader's teeth on edge. Then too, the author's portentously dramatic foreshadowing, which has worked well in his previous books, is here sadly overdone and excessively melodramatic. On the plus side, Irving is convincing in his appraisal of the tragedy of Vietnam and in his religious philosophizing, in which he distinguishes the true elements of faith. But that is not enough to save the meandering narrative. Owen is not the only one to hit a foul ball in this novel, which is too ``mortally cute'' for its own good. BOMC main selection. Mar
Publishers Weekly
Joe Barrett captures the humor and sorrow of Irving's classic novel about faith, friendship and fate. We follow the adventures of diminutive Owen Meany and his best friend Johnny Wheelwright as they grapple with life, death and devotion and come of age in the small town of Gravesend, N.H. Barrett deftly portrays a host of strange and wonderful characters as Owen commandeers the local Christmas pageant, battles with an autocratic headmaster and fulfills what he believes to be his destiny. Faced with the unenviable task of capturing the singular voice of the titular character (in the novel, Owen's dialogue is capitalized to represent his strident, squeaking speech), Barrett produces a workmanlike rendition of Owen that, while not perfect, grows on listeners as the story unfolds. True to the spirit of the text, Barrett's masterful rendition is a delight. A Morrow hardcover. (Aug.)
Library Journal
Diminutive Owen Meaney, the social outcast with the high, pinched voice, has an enormous influence on his friend Johnny Wheelwright--not least because the only baseball Owen ever hits causes the death of Johnny's mother. But as Johnny claims, ``Owen gave me more than he ever took from me. . . . What did he ever say that wasn't right?'' Spookily prescient, convinced that he is an instrument of God, Owen intimidates child and adult alike. Why Johnny ``is a Christian because of Owen Meaney'' is the novel's central mystery but not its only one: Who, for instance, was Johnny's father? Untangling these knots, the adult Johnny pauses to consider his religious convictions and distaste of American politics in passages that are neither especially persuasive nor effectively integrated into the book. And though Owen is a compelling presence, his power over others is not entirely convincing. Still, readers will be drawn in by the story of the boys' friendship and by the desire to see some resolution to Johnny's mysteries.-- Barbara Hoffert, ``Library Journal''
From the Publisher
"A rare creation in the somehow exhausted world of late twentieth-century fiction.... Readers will come to the end feeling sorry to leave [this] richly textured and carefully wrought world."
—Stephen King, The Washington Post Book World

"Roomy, intelligent, exhilarating and darkly comic...Quite stunning."
Los Angeles Times Book Review

"John Irving is an abundantly and even joyfully talented storyteller."
The New York Times Book Review

Read More Show Less

Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780062204226
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/3/2012
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 640
  • Sales rank: 83,188
  • Product dimensions: 4.20 (w) x 6.70 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

John Irving published his first novel at the age of twenty-six. He has received awards from the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation; he has won an O. Henry Award, a National Book Award, and an Academy Award. Mr. Irving lives with his family in Toronto and Vermont.

Biography

It was as a struggling, withdrawn student at Phillips Exeter, the New Hampshire prep school where his stepfather taught Russian history, that John Irving discovered the two great loves of his life: writing and wrestling. Modestly, he attributes his success in both endeavors to dogged perseverance. "My life in wrestling was one-eighth talent and seven-eighths discipline," he confessed in his 1996 mini-memoir The Imaginary Girlfriend. "I believe that my life as a writer consists of one-eighth talent and seven-eighths discipline, too."

Certainly, patience and stamina have served Irving well -- in both wrestling (he competed until he was 34, coached well into his 40s, and was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in 1992) and writing. His first book, Setting Free the Bears, was published in 1968 to respectable reviews but sold poorly. Over the course of the next ten years, he wrote two more unsuccessful novels (The Water-Method Man and The 158-Pound Marriage).

Then, in 1978, Irving hit the jackpot with The World According to Garp, a freewheeling comic saga incorporating motifs he would revisit many times over -- feminism, adultery, violence, grotesquerie, and an overriding sense of impending doom. Garp received a National Book Award nomination and became an instant cult classic. It also paved the way for a string of bestsellers, including The Hotel New Hampshire, The Cider House Rules, A Prayer for Owen Meaney, and The Fourth Hand, to name a few.

While none of his novels are strictly autobiographical, Irving has never denied that certain elements from his life have seeped into his books, most notably the pervading "presence" of his biological father, John Wallace Blunt, a man Irving never knew. Raised by his mother and a stepfather he loved dearly, Irving had denied for years any curiosity about his absent parent, but the figure of the missing father haunted his writing like a specter. In 2005, he laid the ghost to rest with the publication of Until I Find You, a searing story that took shape slowly and painfully over the better part of a decade. Writing the novel also allowed the author to wrestle with a closely guarded secret from his past -- just like the novel's protagonist Jack Burns, Irving was sexually abused as a preteen by an older woman. In an eerily timed coincidence, while he was crafting the novel, Irving was contacted by a man named Chris Blunt, who identified himself as the son of Irving's biological father. Twenty years younger than Irving, his half-brother told Irving that their father had died in 1995. Although Irving was devastated by the experience, he now feels as if he is able to turn the page and move on.

In addition to his novels, Irving has also written a collection of short stories and essays (1995's Trying to Save Piggy Sneed) and several screenplays, including his Oscar-winning adaptation of The Cider House Rules. He chronicled the experience of bringing his novel to the screen in the 1999 memoir My Movie Business.

Good To Know

  • Irving struggled in school with a learning disability that was probably undiagnosed dyslexia. Today, he considers it something of a blessing. Forced to read slowly, he savored each word and literally fell in love with language and literature.

  • In a 2001 interview with the now-defunct Book magazine, Irving confessed, "The characters in my novels, from the very first one, are always on some quixotic effort of attempting to control something that is uncontrollable -- some element of the world that is essentially random and out of control."

  • Although the results have been mixed at best, film versions have been made of several Irving novels, including The World According to Garp, The Hotel New Hampshire, and The Cider House Rules, which won for Irving a Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar. In addition, the movie Simon Birch was loosely based on A Prayer for Owen Meaney, and the first third of Irving's novel A Widow for One Year became the acclaimed film The Door in the Floor.

  • One of Irving's great literary influences was Kurt Vonnegut, his teacher and mentor at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. The two writers remained close friends until Vonnegut's death in 2007.

  • Irving has two tattoos: a maple leaf (in honor of his Canadian wife) on his left shoulder, and the starting circle of a wrestling match on his right forearm.

  • The influence of Charles Dickens is evident in Irving's novels, sprawling epics with huge casts of colorful, eccentric characters and lots of complex plot points that crop up, disappear for hundreds of pages, then resurface unexpectedly. He writes voluminously and in great detail; he refuses to use a computer; and he begins at the end, writing the last sentence of each novel first. He describes himself as a craftsman and claims that he owes his success more to rewrites, ruthless editing, and infinite patience than to artistic genius.

  • Read More Show Less
      1. Also Known As:
        John Wallace Blunt, Jr.
      2. Hometown:
        Vermont
      1. Date of Birth:
        March 2, 1942
      2. Place of Birth:
        Exeter, New Hampshire
      1. Education:
        B.A., University of New Hampshire, 1965; also studied at University of Vienna; M.F.A., Iowa Writers' Workshop, 1967

    Read an Excerpt

    1
    The Foul Ball

    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. I make no claims to have a life in Christ, or with Christ—and certainly not for Christ, which I’ve heard some zealots claim. I’m not very sophisticated in my knowledge of the Old Testament, and I’ve not read the New Testament since my Sunday school days, except for those passages that I hear read aloud to me when I go to church. I’m somewhat more familiar with the passages from the Bible that appear in The Book of Common Prayer; I read my prayer book often, and my Bible only on holy days—the prayer book is so much more orderly.

    I’ve always been a pretty regular churchgoer. I used to be a Congregationalist—I was baptized in the Congregational Church, and after some years of fraternity with Episcopalians (I was confirmed in the Episcopal Church, too), I became rather vague in my religion: in my teens I attended a “nondenominational” church. Then I became an Anglican; the Anglican Church of Canada has been my church—ever since I left the United States, about twenty years ago. Being an Anglican is a lot like being an Episcopalian—so much so that being an Anglican occasionally impresses upon me the suspicion that I have simply become an Episcopalian again. Anyway, I left the Congregationalists and the Episcopalians—and my country once and for all.

    When I die, I shall attempt to be buriedin New Hampshire—alongside my mother—but the Anglican Church will perform the necessary service before my body suffers the indignity of trying to be sneaked through U.S. Customs. My selections from the Order for the Burial of the Dead are entirely conventional and can be found, in the order that I shall have them read—not sung—in The Book of Common Prayer. Almost everyone I know will be familiar with the passage from John, beginning with “. . . whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die.” And then there’s “. . . in my Father’s house are many mansions: If it were not so, I would have told you.” And I have always appreciated the frankness expressed in that passage from Timothy, the one that goes “. . . we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.” It will be a by-the-book Anglican service, the kind that would make my former fellow Congregationalists fidget in their pews. I am an Anglican now, and I shall die an Anglican. But I skip a Sunday service now and then; I make no claims to be especially pious; I have a church-rummage faith—the kind that needs patching up every weekend. What faith I have I owe to Owen Meany, a boy I grew up with. It is Owen who made me a believer.

    In Sunday school, we developed a form of entertainment based on abusing Owen Meany, who was so small that not only did his feet not touch the floor when he sat in his chair—his knees did not extend to the edge of his seat; therefore, his legs stuck out straight, like the legs of a doll. It was as if Owen Meany had been born without realistic joints.

    Owen was so tiny, we loved to pick him up; in truth, we couldn’t resist picking him up. We thought it was a miracle: how little he weighed. This was also incongruous because Owen came from a family in the granite business. The Meany Granite Quarry was a big place, the equipment for blasting and cutting the granite slabs was heavy and dangerous-looking; granite itself is such a rough, substantial rock. But the only aura of the granite quarry that clung to Owen was the granular dust, the gray powder that sprang off his clothes whenever we lifted him up. He was the color of a gravestone; light was both absorbed and reflected by his skin, as with a pearl, so that he appeared translucent at times—especially at his temples, where his blue veins showed through his skin (as though, in addition to his extraordinary size, there were other evidence that he was born too soon).

    His vocal cords had not developed fully, or else his voice had been injured by the rock dust of his family’s business. Maybe he had larynx damage, or a destroyed trachea; maybe he’d been hit in the throat by a chunk of granite. To be heard at all, Owen had to shout through his nose.

    Yet he was dear to us—“a little doll,” the girls called him, while he squirmed to get away from them; and from all of us.

    I don’t remember how our game of lifting Owen began.

    This was Christ Church, the Episcopal Church of Gravesend, New Hampshire. Our Sunday school teacher was a strained, unhappy-looking woman named Mrs. Walker. We thought this name suited her because her method of teaching involved a lot of walking out of class. Mrs. Walker would read us an instructive passage from the Bible. She would then ask us to think seriously about what we had heard—“Silently and seriously, that’s how I want you to think!” she would say. “I’m going to leave you alone with your thoughts, now,” she would tell us ominously—as if our thoughts were capable of driving us over the edge. “I want you to think very hard,” Mrs. Walker would say. Then she’d walk out on us. I think she was a smoker, and she couldn’t allow herself to smoke in front of us. “When I come back,” she’d say, “we’ll talk about it.”

    By the time she came back, of course, we’d forgotten everything about whatever it was—because as soon as she left the room, we would fool around with a frenzy. Because being alone with our thoughts was no fun, we would pick up Owen Meany and pass him back and forth, overhead. We managed this while remaining seated in our chairs—that was the challenge of the game. Someone—I forget who started it—would get up, seize Owen, sit back down with him, pass him to the next person, who would pass him on, and so forth. The girls were included in this game; some of the girls were the most enthusiastic about it. Everyone could lift up Owen. We were very careful; we never dropped him. His shirt might become a little rumpled. His necktie was so long, Owen tucked it into his trousers—or else it would have hung to his knees—and his necktie often came untucked; sometimes his change would fall out (in our faces). We always gave him his money back.

    If he had his baseball cards with him, they, too, would fall out of his pockets. This made him cross because the cards were alphabetized, or ordered under another system—all the infielders together, maybe. We didn’t know what the system was, but obviously Owen had a system, because when Mrs. Walker came back to the room—when Owen returned to his chair and we passed his nickels and dimes and his baseball cards back to him—he would sit shuffling through the cards with a grim, silent fury.

    He was not a good baseball player, but he did have a very small strike zone and as a consequence he was often used as a pinch hitter—not because he ever hit the ball with any authority (in fact, he was instructed never to swing at the ball), but because he could be relied upon to earn a walk, a base on balls. In Little League games he resented this exploitation and once refused to come to bat unless he was allowed to swing at the pitches. But there was no bat small enough for him to swing that didn’t hurl his tiny body after it—that didn’t thump him on the back and knock him out of the batter’s box and flat upon the ground. So, after the humiliation of swinging at a few pitches, and missing them, and whacking himself off his feet, Owen Meany selected that other humiliation of standing motionless and crouched at home plate while the pitcher aimed the ball at Owen’s strike zone—and missed it, almost every time.

    Yet Owen loved his baseball cards—and, for some reason, he clearly loved the game of baseball itself, although the game was cruel to him. Opposing pitchers would threaten him. They’d tell him that if he didn’t swing at their pitches, they’d hit him with the ball. “Your head’s bigger than your strike zone, pal,” one pitcher told him. So Owen Meany made his way to first base after being struck by pitches, too.

    Once on base, he was a star. No one could run the bases like Owen. If our team could stay at bat long enough, Owen Meany could steal home. He was used as a pinch runner in the late innings, too; pinch runner and pinch hitter Meany—pinch walker Meany, we called him. In the field, he was hopeless. He was afraid of the ball; he shut his eyes when it came anywhere near him. And if by some miracle he managed to catch it, he couldn’t throw it; his hand was too small to get a good grip. But he was no ordinary complainer; if he was self-pitying, his voice was so original in its expression of complaint that he managed to make whining lovable.

    In Sunday school, when we held Owen up in the air—especially, in the air!—he protested so uniquely. We tortured him, I think, in order to hear his voice; I used to think his voice came from another planet. Now I’m convinced it was a voice not entirely of this world.

    “PUT ME DOWN!” he would say in a strangled, emphatic falsetto. “CUT IT OUT! I DON’T WANT TO DO THIS ANYMORE. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. PUT ME DOWN! YOU ASSHOLES!”

    But we just passed him around and around. He grew more fatalistic about it, each time. His body was rigid; he wouldn’t struggle. Once we had him in the air, he folded his arms defiantly on his chest; he scowled at the ceiling. Sometimes Owen grabbed hold of his chair the instant Mrs. Walker left the room; he’d cling like a bird to a swing in its cage, but he was easy to dislodge because he was ticklish. A girl named Sukey Swift was especially deft at tickling Owen; instantly, his arms and legs would stick straight out and we’d have him up in the air again.

    “NO TICKLING!” he’d say, but the rules to this game were our rules. We never listened to Owen.

    Inevitably, Mrs. Walker would return to the room when Owen was in the air. Given the biblical nature of her instructions to us: “to think very hard . . .” she might have imagined that by a supreme act of our combined and hardest thoughts we had succeeded in levitating Owen Meany. She might have had the wit to suspect that Owen was reaching toward heaven as a direct result of leaving us alone with our thoughts.

    But Mrs. Walker’s response was always the same—brutish and unimaginative and incredibly dense. “Owen!” she would snap. “Owen Meany, you get back to your seat! You get down from up there!”

    What could Mrs. Walker teach us about the Bible if she was stupid enough to think that Owen Meany had put himself up in the air?

    Owen was always dignified about it. He never said, “THEY DID IT! THEY ALWAYS DO IT! THEY PICK ME UP AND LOSE MY MONEY AND MESS UP MY BASEBALL CARDS—AND THEY NEVER PUT ME DOWN WHEN I ASK THEM TO! WHAT DO YOU THINK, THAT I FLEW UP HERE?”

    But although Owen would complain to us, he would never complain about us. If he was occasionally capable of being a stoic in the air, he was always a stoic when Mrs. Walker accused him of childish behavior. He would never accuse us. Owen was no rat. As vividly as any number of the stories in the Bible, Owen Meany showed us what a martyr was.

    It appeared there were no hard feelings. Although we saved our most ritualized attacks on him for Sunday school, we also lifted him up at other times—more spontaneously. Once someone hooked him by his collar to a coat tree in the elementary-school auditorium; even then, even there, Owen didn’t struggle. He dangled silently, and waited for someone to unhook him and put him down. And after gym class, someone hung him in his locker and shut the door. “NOT FUNNY! NOT FUNNY!” he called, and called, until someone must have agreed with him and freed him from the company of his jockstrap—the size of a slingshot.

    How could I have known that Owen was a hero?

    Let me say at the outset that I was a Wheelwright—that was the family name that counted in our town: the Wheelwrights. And Wheelwrights were not inclined toward sympathy to Meanys. We were a matriarchal family because my grandfather died when he was a young man and left my grandmother to carry on, which she managed rather grandly. I am descended from John Adams on my grandmother’s side (her maiden name was Bates, and her family came to America on the Mayflower); yet, in our town, it was my grandfather’s name that had the clout, and my grandmother wielded her married name with such a sure sense of self-possession that she might as well have been a Wheelwright and an Adams and a Bates.

    Her Christian name was Harriet, but she was Mrs. Wheelwright to almost everyone—certainly to everyone in Owen Meany’s family. I think that Grandmother’s final vision of anyone named Meany would have been George Meany—the labor man, the cigar smoker. The combination of unions and cigars did not sit well with Harriet Wheelwright. (To my knowledge, George Meany is not related to the Meany family from my town.)

    I grew up in Gravesend, New Hampshire; we didn’t have any unions there—a few cigar smokers, but no union men. The town where I was born was purchased from an Indian sagamore in 1638 by the Rev. John Wheelwright, after whom I was named. In New England, the Indian chiefs and higher-ups were called sagamores; although, by the time I was a boy, the only sagamore I knew was a neighbor’s dog—a male Labrador retriever named Sagamore (not, I think, for his Indian ancestry but because of his owner’s ignorance). Sagamore’s owner, our neighbor, Mr. Fish, always told me that his dog was named for a lake where he spent his summers swimming—“when I was a youth,” Mr. Fish would say. Poor Mr. Fish: he didn’t know that the lake was named after Indian chiefs and higher-ups—and that naming a stupid Labrador retriever “Sagamore” was certain to cause some unholy offense. As you shall see, it did.

    But Americans are not great historians, and so, for years—educated by my neighbor—I thought that sagamore was an Indian word for lake. The canine Sagamore was killed by a diaper truck, and I now believe that the gods of those troubled waters of that much-abused lake were responsible. It would be a better story, I think, if Mr. Fish had been killed by the diaper truck—but every study of the gods, of everyone’s gods, is a revelation of vengeance toward the innocent. (This is a part of my particular faith that meets with opposition from my Congregationalist and Episcopalian and Anglican friends.)

    As for my ancestor John Wheelwright, he landed in Boston in 1636, only two years before he bought our town. He was from Lincolnshire, England—the hamlet of Saleby—and nobody knows why he named our town Gravesend. He had no known contact with the British Gravesend, although that is surely where the name of our town came from. Wheelwright was a Cambridge graduate; he’d played foot- ball with Oliver Cromwell—whose estimation of Wheelwright (as a football player) was both worshipful and paranoid. Oliver Cromwell believed that Wheelwright was a vicious, even a dirty player, who had perfected the art of tripping his opponents and then falling on them. Gravesend (the British Gravesend) is in Kent—a fair distance from Wheelwright’s stamping ground. Perhaps he had a friend from there—maybe it was a friend who had wanted to make the trip to America with Wheelwright, but who hadn’t been able to leave England, or had died on the voyage.

    According to Wall’s History of Gravesend, N.H., the Rev. John Wheelwright had been a good minister of the English church until he began to “question the authority of certain dogmas”; he became a Puritan, and was thereafter “silenced by the ecclesiastical powers, for nonconformity.” I feel that my own religious confusion, and stubbornness, owe much to my ancestor, who suffered not only the criticisms of the English church before he left for the new world; once he arrived, he ran afoul of his fellow Puritans in Boston. Together with the famous Mrs. Hutchinson, the Rev. Mr. Wheelwright was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for disturbing “the civil peace”; in truth, he did nothing more seditious than offer some heterodox opinions regarding the location of the Holy Ghost—but Massachusetts judged him harshly. He was deprived of his weapons; and with his family and several of his bravest adherents, he sailed north from Boston to Great Bay, where he must have passed by two earlier New Hampshire outposts—what was then called Strawbery Banke, at the mouth of the Pascataqua (now Portsmouth), and the settlement in Dover.

    Wheelwright followed the Squamscott River out of Great Bay; he went as far as the falls where the freshwater river met the saltwater river. The forest would have been dense then; the Indians would have showed him how good the fishing was. According to Wall’s History of Gravesend, there were “tracts of natural meadow” and “marshes bordering upon the tidewater.”

    The local sagamore’s name was Watahantowet; instead of his signature, he made his mark upon the deed in the form of his totem—an armless man. Later, there was some dispute—not very interesting—regarding the Indian deed, and more interesting speculation regarding why Watahantowet’s totem was an armless man. Some said it was how it made the sagamore feel to give up all that land—to have his arms cut off—and others pointed out that earlier “marks” made by Watahantowet revealed that the figure, although armless, held a feather in his mouth; this was said to indicate the sagamore’s frustration at being unable to write. But in several other versions of the totem ascribed to Watahantowet, the figure has a tomahawk in its mouth and looks completely crazy—or else, he is making a gesture toward peace: no arms, tomahawk in mouth; together, perhaps, they are meant to signify that Watahantowet does not fight. As for the settlement of the disputed deed, you can be sure the Indians were not the beneficiaries of the resolution to that difference of opinion.

    And later still, our town fell under Massachusetts authority—which may, to this day, explain why residents of Gravesend detest people from Massachusetts. Mr. Wheelwright would move to Maine. He was eighty when he spoke at Harvard, seeking contributions to rebuild a part of the college destroyed by a fire—demonstrating that he bore the citizens of Massachusetts less of a grudge than anyone else from Gravesend would bear them. Wheelwright died in Salisbury, Massachusetts, where he was the spiritual leader of the church, when he was almost ninety.

    But listen to the names of Gravesend’s founding fathers: you will not hear a Meany among them.

    Barlow

    Blackwell

    Cole

    Copeland

    Crawley

    Dearborn

    Hilton

    Hutchinson

    Littlefield

    Read

    Rishworth

    Smart

    Smith

    Walker

    Wardell

    Wentworth

    Wheelwright

    I doubt it’s because she was a Wheelwright that my mother never gave up her maiden name; I think my mother’s pride was independent of her Wheelwright ancestry, and that she would have kept her maiden name if she’d been born a Meany. And I never suffered in those years that I had her name; I was little Johnny Wheelwright, father unknown, and—at the time—that was okay with me. I never complained. One day, I always thought, she would tell me about it—when I was old enough to know the story. It was, apparently, the kind of story you had to be “old enough” to hear. It wasn’t until she died—without a word to me concerning who my father was—that I felt I’d been cheated out of information I had a right to know; it was only after her death that I felt the slightest anger toward her. Even if my father’s identity and his story were painful to my mother—even if their relationship had been so sordid that any revelation of it would shed a continuous, unfavorable light upon both my parents—wasn’t my mother being selfish not to tell me anything about my father?

    Of course, as Owen Meany pointed out to me, I was only eleven when she died, and my mother was only thirty; she probably thought she had a lot of time left to tell me the story. She didn’t know she was going to die, as Owen Meany put it.

    Owen and I were throwing rocks in the Squamscott, the saltwater river, the tidal river—or, rather, I was throwing rocks in the river; Owen’s rocks were landing in the mud flats because the tide was out and the water was too far away for Owen Meany’s little, weak arm. Our throwing had disturbed the herring gulls who’d been pecking in the mud, and the gulls had moved into the marsh grass on the opposite shore of the Squamscott.

    It was a hot, muggy, summer day; the low-tide smell of the mud flats was more brinish and morbid than usual. Owen Meany told me that my father would know that my mother was dead, and that—when I was old enough—he would identify himself to me.

    “If he’s alive,” I said, still throwing rocks. “If he’s alive and if he cares that he’s my father—if he even knows he’s my father.”

    And although I didn’t believe him that day, that was the day Owen Meany began his lengthy contribution to my belief in God. Owen was throwing smaller and smaller rocks, but he still couldn’t reach the water; there was a certain small satisfaction to the sound the rocks made when they struck the mud flats, but the water was more satisfying than the mud in every way. And almost casually, with a confidence that stood in surprising and unreasonable juxtaposition to his tiny size, Owen Meany told me that he was sure my father was alive, that he was sure my father knew he was my father, and that God knew who my father was; even if my father never came forth to identify himself, Owen told me, God would identify him for me. “YOUR DAD CAN HIDE FROM YOU,” Owen said, “BUT HE CAN’T HIDE FROM GOD.”

    And with that announcement, Owen Meany grunted as he released a stone that reached the water. We were both surprised; it was the last rock either of us threw that day, and we stood watching the circle of ripples extending from the point of entry until even the gulls were assured we had stopped our disturbance of their universe, and they returned to our side of the Squamscott.


    From the Trade Paperback edition.

    Copyright 2002 by John Irving Introduction by the author
    Read More Show Less

    First Chapter

    1
    The Foul Ball

    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. I make no claims to have a life in Christ, or with Christ—and certainly not for Christ, which I've heard some zealots claim. I'm not very sophisticated in my knowledge of the Old Testament, and I've not read the New Testament since my Sunday school days, except for those passages that I hear read aloud to me when I go to church. I'm somewhat more familiar with the passages from the Bible that appear in The Book of Common Prayer; I read my prayer book often, and my Bible only on holy days—the prayer book is so much more orderly.

    I've always been a pretty regular churchgoer. I used to be a Congregationalist—I was baptized in the Congregational Church, and after some years of fraternity with Episcopalians (I was confirmed in the Episcopal Church, too), I became rather vague in my religion: in my teens I attended a "nondenominational" church. Then I became an Anglican; the Anglican Church of Canada has been my church—ever since I left the United States, about twenty years ago. Being an Anglican is a lot like being an Episcopalian—so much so that being an Anglican occasionally impresses upon me the suspicion that I have simply become an Episcopalian again. Anyway, I left the Congregationalists and the Episcopalians—and my country once and for all.

    When I die, I shall attempt to be buried in New Hampshire—alongside mymother—but the Anglican Church will perform the necessary service before my body suffers the indignity of trying to be sneaked through U.S. Customs. My selections from the Order for the Burial of the Dead are entirely conventional and can be found, in the order that I shall have them read—not sung—in The Book of Common Prayer. Almost everyone I know will be familiar with the passage from John, beginning with ". . . whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die." And then there's ". . . in my Father's house are many mansions: If it were not so, I would have told you." And I have always appreciated the frankness expressed in that passage from Timothy, the one that goes ". . . we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out." It will be a by-the-book Anglican service, the kind that would make my former fellow Congregationalists fidget in their pews. I am an Anglican now, and I shall die an Anglican. But I skip a Sunday service now and then; I make no claims to be especially pious; I have a church-rummage faith—the kind that needs patching up every weekend. What faith I have I owe to Owen Meany, a boy I grew up with. It is Owen who made me a believer.

    In Sunday school, we developed a form of entertainment based on abusing Owen Meany, who was so small that not only did his feet not touch the floor when he sat in his chair—his knees did not extend to the edge of his seat; therefore, his legs stuck out straight, like the legs of a doll. It was as if Owen Meany had been born without realistic joints.

    Owen was so tiny, we loved to pick him up; in truth, we couldn't resist picking him up. We thought it was a miracle: how little he weighed. This was also incongruous because Owen came from a family in the granite business. The Meany Granite Quarry was a big place, the equipment for blasting and cutting the granite slabs was heavy and dangerous-looking; granite itself is such a rough, substantial rock. But the only aura of the granite quarry that clung to Owen was the granular dust, the gray powder that sprang off his clothes whenever we lifted him up. He was the color of a gravestone; light was both absorbed and reflected by his skin, as with a pearl, so that he appeared translucent at times—especially at his temples, where his blue veins showed through his skin (as though, in addition to his extraordinary size, there were other evidence that he was born too soon).

    His vocal cords had not developed fully, or else his voice had been injured by the rock dust of his family's business. Maybe he had larynx damage, or a destroyed trachea; maybe he'd been hit in the throat by a chunk of granite. To be heard at all, Owen had to shout through his nose.

    Yet he was dear to us—"a little doll," the girls called him, while he squirmed to get away from them; and from all of us.

    I don't remember how our game of lifting Owen began.

    This was Christ Church, the Episcopal Church of Gravesend, New Hampshire. Our Sunday school teacher was a strained, unhappy-looking woman named Mrs. Walker. We thought this name suited her because her method of teaching involved a lot of walking out of class. Mrs. Walker would read us an instructive passage from the Bible. She would then ask us to think seriously about what we had heard—"Silently and seriously, that's how I want you to think!" she would say. "I'm going to leave you alone with your thoughts, now," she would tell us ominously—as if our thoughts were capable of driving us over the edge. "I want you to think very hard," Mrs. Walker would say. Then she'd walk out on us. I think she was a smoker, and she couldn't allow herself to smoke in front of us. "When I come back," she'd say, "we'll talk about it."

    By the time she came back, of course, we'd forgotten everything about whatever it was—because as soon as she left the room, we would fool around with a frenzy. Because being alone with our thoughts was no fun, we would pick up Owen Meany and pass him back and forth, overhead. We managed this while remaining seated in our chairs—that was the challenge of the game. Someone—I forget who started it—would get up, seize Owen, sit back down with him, pass him to the next person, who would pass him on, and so forth. The girls were included in this game; some of the girls were the most enthusiastic about it. Everyone could lift up Owen. We were very careful; we never dropped him. His shirt might become a little rumpled. His necktie was so long, Owen tucked it into his trousers—or else it would have hung to his knees—and his necktie often came untucked; sometimes his change would fall out (in our faces). We always gave him his money back.

    If he had his baseball cards with him, they, too, would fall out of his pockets. This made him cross because the cards were alphabetized, or ordered under another system—all the infielders together, maybe. We didn't know what the system was, but obviously Owen had a system, because when Mrs. Walker came back to the room—when Owen returned to his chair and we passed his nickels and dimes and his baseball cards back to him—he would sit shuffling through the cards with a grim, silent fury.

    He was not a good baseball player, but he did have a very small strike zone and as a consequence he was often used as a pinch hitter—not because he ever hit the ball with any authority (in fact, he was instructed never to swing at the ball), but because he could be relied upon to earn a walk, a base on balls. In Little League games he resented this exploitation and once refused to come to bat unless he was allowed to swing at the pitches. But there was no bat small enough for him to swing that didn't hurl his tiny body after it—that didn't thump him on the back and knock him out of the batter's box and flat upon the ground. So, after the humiliation of swinging at a few pitches, and missing them, and whacking himself off his feet, Owen Meany selected that other humiliation of standing motionless and crouched at home plate while the pitcher aimed the ball at Owen's strike zone—and missed it, almost every time.

    Yet Owen loved his baseball cards—and, for some reason, he clearly loved the game of baseball itself, although the game was cruel to him. Opposing pitchers would threaten him. They'd tell him that if he didn't swing at their pitches, they'd hit him with the ball. "Your head's bigger than your strike zone, pal," one pitcher told him. So Owen Meany made his way to first base after being struck by pitches, too.

    Once on base, he was a star. No one could run the bases like Owen. If our team could stay at bat long enough, Owen Meany could steal home. He was used as a pinch runner in the late innings, too; pinch runner and pinch hitter Meany—pinch walker Meany, we called him. In the field, he was hopeless. He was afraid of the ball; he shut his eyes when it came anywhere near him. And if by some miracle he managed to catch it, he couldn't throw it; his hand was too small to get a good grip. But he was no ordinary complainer; if he was self-pitying, his voice was so original in its expression of complaint that he managed to make whining lovable.

    In Sunday school, when we held Owen up in the air—especially, in the air!—he protested so uniquely. We tortured him, I think, in order to hear his voice; I used to think his voice came from another planet. Now I'm convinced it was a voice not entirely of this world.

    "PUT ME DOWN!" he would say in a strangled, emphatic falsetto. "CUT IT OUT! I DON'T WANT TO DO THIS ANYMORE. ENOUGH IS ENOUGH. PUT ME DOWN! YOU ASSHOLES!"

    But we just passed him around and around. He grew more fatalistic about it, each time. His body was rigid; he wouldn't struggle. Once we had him in the air, he folded his arms defiantly on his chest; he scowled at the ceiling. Sometimes Owen grabbed hold of his chair the instant Mrs. Walker left the room; he'd cling like a bird to a swing in its cage, but he was easy to dislodge because he was ticklish. A girl named Sukey Swift was especially deft at tickling Owen; instantly, his arms and legs would stick straight out and we'd have him up in the air again.

    "NO TICKLING!" he'd say, but the rules to this game were our rules. We never listened to Owen.

    Inevitably, Mrs. Walker would return to the room when Owen was in the air. Given the biblical nature of her instructions to us: "to think very hard . . ." she might have imagined that by a supreme act of our combined and hardest thoughts we had succeeded in levitating Owen Meany. She might have had the wit to suspect that Owen was reaching toward heaven as a direct result of leaving us alone with our thoughts.

    But Mrs. Walker's response was always the same—brutish and unimaginative and incredibly dense. "Owen!" she would snap. "Owen Meany, you get back to your seat! You get down from up there!"

    What could Mrs. Walker teach us about the Bible if she was stupid enough to think that Owen Meany had put himself up in the air?

    Owen was always dignified about it. He never said, "THEY DID IT! THEY ALWAYS DO IT! THEY PICK ME UP AND LOSE MY MONEY AND MESS UP MY BASEBALL CARDS—AND THEY NEVER PUT ME DOWN WHEN I ASK THEM TO! WHAT DO YOU THINK, THAT I FLEW UP HERE?"

    But although Owen would complain to us, he would never complain about us. If he was occasionally capable of being a stoic in the air, he was always a stoic when Mrs. Walker accused him of childish behavior. He would never accuse us. Owen was no rat. As vividly as any number of the stories in the Bible, Owen Meany showed us what a martyr was.

    It appeared there were no hard feelings. Although we saved our most ritualized attacks on him for Sunday school, we also lifted him up at other times—more spontaneously. Once someone hooked him by his collar to a coat tree in the elementary-school auditorium; even then, even there, Owen didn't struggle. He dangled silently, and waited for someone to unhook him and put him down. And after gym class, someone hung him in his locker and shut the door. "NOT FUNNY! NOT FUNNY!" he called, and called, until someone must have agreed with him and freed him from the company of his jockstrap—the size of a slingshot.

    How could I have known that Owen was a hero?

    Let me say at the outset that I was a Wheelwright—that was the family name that counted in our town: the Wheelwrights. And Wheelwrights were not inclined toward sympathy to Meanys. We were a matriarchal family because my grandfather died when he was a young man and left my grandmother to carry on, which she managed rather grandly. I am descended from John Adams on my grandmother's side (her maiden name was Bates, and her family came to America on the Mayflower); yet, in our town, it was my grandfather's name that had the clout, and my grandmother wielded her married name with such a sure sense of self-possession that she might as well have been a Wheelwright and an Adams and a Bates.

    Her Christian name was Harriet, but she was Mrs. Wheelwright to almost everyone—certainly to everyone in Owen Meany's family. I think that Grandmother's final vision of anyone named Meany would have been George Meany—the labor man, the cigar smoker. The combination of unions and cigars did not sit well with Harriet Wheelwright. (To my knowledge, George Meany is not related to the Meany family from my town.)

    I grew up in Gravesend, New Hampshire; we didn't have any unions there—a few cigar smokers, but no union men. The town where I was born was purchased from an Indian sagamore in 1638 by the Rev. John Wheelwright, after whom I was named. In New England, the Indian chiefs and higher-ups were called sagamores; although, by the time I was a boy, the only sagamore I knew was a neighbor's dog—a male Labrador retriever named Sagamore (not, I think, for his Indian ancestry but because of his owner's ignorance). Sagamore's owner, our neighbor, Mr. Fish, always told me that his dog was named for a lake where he spent his summers swimming—"when I was a youth," Mr. Fish would say. Poor Mr. Fish: he didn't know that the lake was named after Indian chiefs and higher-ups—and that naming a stupid Labrador retriever "Sagamore" was certain to cause some unholy offense. As you shall see, it did.

    But Americans are not great historians, and so, for years—educated by my neighbor—I thought that sagamore was an Indian word for lake. The canine Sagamore was killed by a diaper truck, and I now believe that the gods of those troubled waters of that much-abused lake were responsible. It would be a better story, I think, if Mr. Fish had been killed by the diaper truck—but every study of the gods, of everyone's gods, is a revelation of vengeance toward the innocent. (This is a part of my particular faith that meets with opposition from my Congregationalist and Episcopalian and Anglican friends.)

    As for my ancestor John Wheelwright, he landed in Boston in 1636, only two years before he bought our town. He was from Lincolnshire, England—the hamlet of Saleby—and nobody knows why he named our town Gravesend. He had no known contact with the British Gravesend, although that is surely where the name of our town came from. Wheelwright was a Cambridge graduate; he'd played foot- ball with Oliver Cromwell—whose estimation of Wheelwright (as a football player) was both worshipful and paranoid. Oliver Cromwell believed that Wheelwright was a vicious, even a dirty player, who had perfected the art of tripping his opponents and then falling on them. Gravesend (the British Gravesend) is in Kent—a fair distance from Wheelwright's stamping ground. Perhaps he had a friend from there—maybe it was a friend who had wanted to make the trip to America with Wheelwright, but who hadn't been able to leave England, or had died on the voyage.

    According to Wall's History of Gravesend, N.H., the Rev. John Wheelwright had been a good minister of the English church until he began to "question the authority of certain dogmas"; he became a Puritan, and was thereafter "silenced by the ecclesiastical powers, for nonconformity." I feel that my own religious confusion, and stubbornness, owe much to my ancestor, who suffered not only the criticisms of the English church before he left for the new world; once he arrived, he ran afoul of his fellow Puritans in Boston. Together with the famous Mrs. Hutchinson, the Rev. Mr. Wheelwright was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for disturbing "the civil peace"; in truth, he did nothing more seditious than offer some heterodox opinions regarding the location of the Holy Ghost—but Massachusetts judged him harshly. He was deprived of his weapons; and with his family and several of his bravest adherents, he sailed north from Boston to Great Bay, where he must have passed by two earlier New Hampshire outposts—what was then called Strawbery Banke, at the mouth of the Pascataqua (now Portsmouth), and the settlement in Dover.

    Wheelwright followed the Squamscott River out of Great Bay; he went as far as the falls where the freshwater river met the saltwater river. The forest would have been dense then; the Indians would have showed him how good the fishing was. According to Wall's History of Gravesend, there were "tracts of natural meadow" and "marshes bordering upon the tidewater."

    The local sagamore's name was Watahantowet; instead of his signature, he made his mark upon the deed in the form of his totem—an armless man. Later, there was some dispute—not very interesting—regarding the Indian deed, and more interesting speculation regarding why Watahantowet's totem was an armless man. Some said it was how it made the sagamore feel to give up all that land—to have his arms cut off—and others pointed out that earlier "marks" made by Watahantowet revealed that the figure, although armless, held a feather in his mouth; this was said to indicate the sagamore's frustration at being unable to write. But in several other versions of the totem ascribed to Watahantowet, the figure has a tomahawk in its mouth and looks completely crazy—or else, he is making a gesture toward peace: no arms, tomahawk in mouth; together, perhaps, they are meant to signify that Watahantowet does not fight. As for the settlement of the disputed deed, you can be sure the Indians were not the beneficiaries of the resolution to that difference of opinion.

    And later still, our town fell under Massachusetts authority—which may, to this day, explain why residents of Gravesend detest people from Massachusetts. Mr. Wheelwright would move to Maine. He was eighty when he spoke at Harvard, seeking contributions to rebuild a part of the college destroyed by a fire—demonstrating that he bore the citizens of Massachusetts less of a grudge than anyone else from Gravesend would bear them. Wheelwright died in Salisbury, Massachusetts, where he was the spiritual leader of the church, when he was almost ninety.

    But listen to the names of Gravesend's founding fathers: you will not hear a Meany among them.

    Barlow

    Blackwell

    Cole

    Copeland

    Crawley

    Dearborn

    Hilton

    Hutchinson

    Littlefield

    Read

    Rishworth

    Smart

    Smith

    Walker

    Wardell

    Wentworth

    Wheelwright

    I doubt it's because she was a Wheelwright that my mother never gave up her maiden name; I think my mother's pride was independent of her Wheelwright ancestry, and that she would have kept her maiden name if she'd been born a Meany. And I never suffered in those years that I had her name; I was little Johnny Wheelwright, father unknown, and—at the time—that was okay with me. I never complained. One day, I always thought, she would tell me about it—when I was old enough to know the story. It was, apparently, the kind of story you had to be "old enough" to hear. It wasn't until she died—without a word to me concerning who my father was—that I felt I'd been cheated out of information I had a right to know; it was only after her death that I felt the slightest anger toward her. Even if my father's identity and his story were painful to my mother—even if their relationship had been so sordid that any revelation of it would shed a continuous, unfavorable light upon both my parents—wasn't my mother being selfish not to tell me anything about my father?

    Of course, as Owen Meany pointed out to me, I was only eleven when she died, and my mother was only thirty; she probably thought she had a lot of time left to tell me the story. She didn't know she was going to die, as Owen Meany put it.

    Owen and I were throwing rocks in the Squamscott, the saltwater river, the tidal river—or, rather, I was throwing rocks in the river; Owen's rocks were landing in the mud flats because the tide was out and the water was too far away for Owen Meany's little, weak arm. Our throwing had disturbed the herring gulls who'd been pecking in the mud, and the gulls had moved into the marsh grass on the opposite shore of the Squamscott.

    It was a hot, muggy, summer day; the low-tide smell of the mud flats was more brinish and morbid than usual. Owen Meany told me that my father would know that my mother was dead, and that—when I was old enough—he would identify himself to me.

    "If he's alive," I said, still throwing rocks. "If he's alive and if he cares that he's my father—if he even knows he's my father."

    And although I didn't believe him that day, that was the day Owen Meany began his lengthy contribution to my belief in God. Owen was throwing smaller and smaller rocks, but he still couldn't reach the water; there was a certain small satisfaction to the sound the rocks made when they struck the mud flats, but the water was more satisfying than the mud in every way. And almost casually, with a confidence that stood in surprising and unreasonable juxtaposition to his tiny size, Owen Meany told me that he was sure my father was alive, that he was sure my father knew he was my father, and that God knew who my father was; even if my father never came forth to identify himself, Owen told me, God would identify him for me. "YOUR DAD CAN HIDE FROM YOU," Owen said, "BUT HE CAN'T HIDE FROM GOD."

    And with that announcement, Owen Meany grunted as he released a stone that reached the water. We were both surprised; it was the last rock either of us threw that day, and we stood watching the circle of ripples extending from the point of entry until even the gulls were assured we had stopped our disturbance of their universe, and they returned to our side of the Squamscott.
    Read More Show Less

    Reading Group Guide

    1. Though he's portrayed as an instrument of God, Owen Meany causes the death of John's mother. What other deaths was Owen indirectly involved with? Do you find Owen's close relationship with death to support or undermine his miraculous purpose?

    2. Owen speaks and writes in capital letters, emphasizing the potency of his strange voice. At the academy, he is even referred to as the Voice. Why is Owen's voice so important? What other occasions can you think of in which Owen's voice played an especially mean-ingful role?

    3. Reverend Merrill always speaks of faith in tandem with doubt. Do you believe that one can exist without the other or that one strengthens the other? Was your opinion about Merrill's views on faith and doubt affected by the revelation of his relationship to John Wheelwright?

    4. Merrill experiences a bogus miracle and resurgence of faith when John stages his mother's dressmaker dummy outside the church. Later, John's involvement in Owen's rescue of the Vietnamese chil-dren spurs John's own faith: "I am a Christian because of Owen Meany, " he says. Do you think the genuineness of Owen's miracle makes the birth of John's faith more valid than the faith engendered by Merrill's bogus miracle?

    5. The Meanys claim that, like Jesus, Owen was the product of a vir-gin birth. Owen dislikes the Catholic Church for turning away his parents, but Owen himself makes the Meanys leave the Christmas Pageant. Name other instances when Owen's feelings toward his family seem conflicted. Do you think Owen ever considers himself Christlike?

    6. An observer necessary to the Christmas Pageant but seldom an ac-tive participant, John plays Josephto Owen's baby Jesus. John refers to himself on other occasions as "just a Joseph." Do you see John's role as Joseph-like throughout the story? Are there other biblical characters with whom you identify John?

    7. Did Irving's references to the armless Indian and the pawless armadillo prepare you for Owen's sacrifice? What other clues did Irving give about Owen's final heroic scene?

    8. Throughout the novel, John gives hints to the forthcoming action, adding, "As you shall see." Did you find this to be an effective way to keep you reading and engaged in the story?

    9. Owen Meany taught John that "Any good book is always in motion--from the general to the specific, from the particular to the whole and back again." Do you think Irving followed his own recipe for a good book? Supply examples in support of your position.

    10. Given John's dislike of Gravesend Academy, which expelled Owen, did you find it interesting that John later taught at an academy in Toronto? In what other ways does John, as an adult, embrace issues or events that he was indifferent or hostile to as an adolescent?

    11. John assists Owen in rescuing the children, but John always plays the supporting part in Owen's adventures. Based on the scenes in Toronto in the 1980s, do you think John ever escaped his support-ing role? How do you think John's retained virginity reflects on his sense of self?

    12. Did your feelings about the U. S. involvement in Vietnam change after reading Irving's portrayal of the peace movement, the draft dodgers, and Owen's involvement in the army? Were you surprised by Owen's efforts to get to Vietnam?

    13. John's reactions to and obsession with the Iran-Contra affair of the 1980s reflect his position as neither a true Canadian nor a true American. Do you think that non-Americans have a clearer vision of the machinations and deceptions within American politics? What did John's focus on American politics tell you about his adult character?

    14. Irving frequently foreshadows tragedy; for example, hailstones hit John's mother on the head during her wedding day, providing a glimpse of her later death by a baseball. What other events does Irving foreshadow?

    15. Several reviews call A Prayer for Owen Meany "Dickensian, " and Irving himself incorporates scenes from Dickens in the story. In what ways does Irving's writing remind you of Dickens's? What other writers would you compare Irving to?

    Read More Show Less

    Customer Reviews

    Average Rating 4.5
    ( 405 )
    Rating Distribution

    5 Star

    (259)

    4 Star

    (82)

    3 Star

    (34)

    2 Star

    (15)

    1 Star

    (15)

    Your Rating:

    Your Name: Create a Pen Name or

    Barnes & Noble.com Review Rules

    Our reader reviews allow you to share your comments on titles you liked, or didn't, with others. By submitting an online review, you are representing to Barnes & Noble.com that all information contained in your review is original and accurate in all respects, and that the submission of such content by you and the posting of such content by Barnes & Noble.com does not and will not violate the rights of any third party. Please follow the rules below to help ensure that your review can be posted.

    Reviews by Our Customers Under the Age of 13

    We highly value and respect everyone's opinion concerning the titles we offer. However, we cannot allow persons under the age of 13 to have accounts at BN.com or to post customer reviews. Please see our Terms of Use for more details.

    What to exclude from your review:

    Please do not write about reviews, commentary, or information posted on the product page. If you see any errors in the information on the product page, please send us an email.

    Reviews should not contain any of the following:

    • - HTML tags, profanity, obscenities, vulgarities, or comments that defame anyone
    • - Time-sensitive information such as tour dates, signings, lectures, etc.
    • - Single-word reviews. Other people will read your review to discover why you liked or didn't like the title. Be descriptive.
    • - Comments focusing on the author or that may ruin the ending for others
    • - Phone numbers, addresses, URLs
    • - Pricing and availability information or alternative ordering information
    • - Advertisements or commercial solicitation

    Reminder:

    • - By submitting a review, you grant to Barnes & Noble.com and its sublicensees the royalty-free, perpetual, irrevocable right and license to use the review in accordance with the Barnes & Noble.com Terms of Use.
    • - Barnes & Noble.com reserves the right not to post any review -- particularly those that do not follow the terms and conditions of these Rules. Barnes & Noble.com also reserves the right to remove any review at any time without notice.
    • - See Terms of Use for other conditions and disclaimers.
    Search for Products You'd Like to Recommend

    Recommend other products that relate to your review. Just search for them below and share!

    Create a Pen Name

    Your Pen Name is your unique identity on BN.com. It will appear on the reviews you write and other website activities. Your Pen Name cannot be edited, changed or deleted once submitted.

     
    Your Pen Name can be any combination of alphanumeric characters (plus - and _), and must be at least two characters long.

    Continue Anonymously
    See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 405 Customer Reviews
    • Anonymous

      Posted October 26, 2005

      Not amused by this novel

      This book is obscene, and unsuitable for children of any age. It uses the 'F' word through out the book, and features numerous sex scenes involving teenagers, relatives (incest), and in one case, contemplates sex between a teenager and a married adult. Furthermore, this book mocks and belittles Christianity, throughout ... calling Christians 'idiots,' 'simpletons' and 'self righteous fanatics.' At one point, it refers to Jesus disciples, using profanity ... And takes the specific words of Jesus, ... from his Sermon on the Mount ... and says they're untrue. It also mocks the Virgin birth of Christ, implying Jesus mother was retarded ... (which seems to be a recurring theme of Irving's books (World According to Garp also contains a virgin birth mockery.) The book also contains several Manger 'scenes' where the 'baby Jesus' is depicted by an adolescent Owen Meany, --lustful and with an 'erection.' This book is technically 'fiction' ...but in reality, it uses a fictitious theme, to attack real life characters ...primarily Christians, and the Republican Party ... (It refers to Ronald Reagan as a 'young drunk,' for example.) This book was assigned to my 15 year old daughter, in her 'honors' english class, at a public high school. It is on the approved reading list in another school district near by. It is not anything any parent would want their child reading in school (or anywhere else for that matter). (...) (A parent will be shocked by the frequent obscenity.) In a country where teenage pregnancy is on the rise, and HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases rampant ... we don't need to be purposely focussing our children on such carnal desires ... Finally, this book has been characterized as 'humorous' by readers and critics ... However, you will only find it humorous ... if you don't mind the most sacred Christian figures being mocked and belittled ... I for one, am not laughing ...

      86 out of 219 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Posted September 13, 2009

      I Also Recommend:

      A Prayer for Owen Meany

      I did not find Owen Meany to be an immediately lovable character, but his is a character that grew on me. By the end of the book, when one truly understands what Owen was about, it becomes clear just how strong both the book and the character turn out to be. By then, all the details make sense, the meaning behind each chapter becomes clear, and you are left with the feeling that you have finished a truly remarkable book. This book truly is absolute perfection in a novel. There's not much of that in the modern writing world. The first few chapters are slow going, but not to delay the miraculous end ... only to set the oh so important stage and plot. And oh, what a stage, what a cast of characters, what dialogue and New England settings.
      Treat yourself to a true modern day masterpiece. By the end, you'll be sobbing, turning back pages saying, "Why? Why? This can't be," while knowing it HAD to be. I wish I could shake the hand that has written such an amazing tale. A Prayer for Owen Meany is undoubtedly one of the best books I have ever read. The six hundred page novel is filled to the brim with unexpected sarcasm and incredible hilarity. The novel, told from the point of view of John Wheelrwight, tells the story of an unnaturally small and high-pitched boy named Owen Meany. Throughout the story, John Irving made this character, a character so complex and so riveting, to be one of the most incredible protagonists American literature has ever seen.

      43 out of 52 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted October 24, 2003

      Don't miss this one!

      I finished this book just today and I want to go back to the beginning and read it all over again! A Prayer for Owen Meany joins my list of all time favorites. It is a book to be savored and one I never wanted to end. This is a book about faith, friendship, destiny and the meaning of life. Are the seemingly random incidents in life truly random, or does everything happen for a reason? Owen Meany knows the answer to that question. Once again John Irving has created a world full of characters you will love and never forget, a story that will make you laugh and make you cry. But most of all A Prayer for Owen Meany will touch your heart and make you believe.

      21 out of 26 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Posted July 6, 2010

      Simply horrible...

      I had the displeasure of reading this for a literature class in my university. I am a lover of all kinds of literature, but this book was just horrible. The characters are pathetic, it amazes me how all the characters just blindly follow Owen Meany. Owen Meany tells you to cut your hand off, you do it, Owen Meany tells you to become a literature professor for a living, oh yeah, you better do it.

      The narrator, who is also a character in the story, is the least likable character I have ever read about, he is pathetic and cynical. The entire book is cynical really, cynical about the government, cynical about religious congregations...it's funny how religion is a major theme in the book but is bashed around so much.

      Owen Meany goes around acting like he's Jesus Christ, and everyone seems to buy into that. Unless you're looking forward to reading page after page about an unaccomplished middle-aged man complaining about god and the world...then I don't reccomend it.

      16 out of 50 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted May 5, 2010

      A Prayer For Owen Meany belongs in everyone's library.

      This book can definitely be described as a true novel. I have shared it with so many relatives and friends that I had to buy a second copy (paperback) because my first one was falling apart.

      I found the story brought out a fact I learned many years ago in grade school. Our seventh grade teacher pointed out that each of us was put on this earth for a very special reason and Owen Meany brought that fact back into my life.

      I am very grateful that John Irving wrote and shared this novel with us.

      16 out of 18 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted September 12, 2008

      Endearing Characters and a Satisfying Ending

      When I was a young girl, I had a night light by my bed. Long after my fear of the dark had passed, I would pretend to still be afraid so that I could use the light to read books when I was supposed to be sleeping. Now I am at a different life stage in a different setting, but this book was worth buying a new reading lamp for. It was also worth staying up late with a aching neck and sore eyes just to finish another chapter. The characters in this book, and the relationship between them and God, evoked deep respect and reflection from this reader. The ending of the novel was satisfying because one can trace the closing events to earlier ones and realize that just as God had a plan within the plot, Irving had a plan as well.

      13 out of 17 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Posted February 22, 2010

      more from this reviewer

      Torture

      I hated this book! It was pure torture to pick it up and read. But for some reason I stuck it out to the bitter end where I sobbed like a big baby and was glad to have finished for the sake of the story and not just because I was done with it. However, I will never read another John Irving book again - Ever. I really dislike Irving's writing style.

      11 out of 32 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Posted April 9, 2010

      I Also Recommend:

      A Prayer for Owen Meany

      This is one of my all time favorite books! I fell in love with the characters like I do with all of John Irvings' characters. He writes so well of broken people. Which in my opinion we all are to one degree or another. I am not a religious person but still loved this story. I have loaned it to friends and family and all but one person fell in love with this book as well. This book is funny as hell and sad all at the same time. You find yourself laughing at and crying with these characters while they forge thier way through thier lives.

      9 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Posted November 5, 2009

      more from this reviewer

      wonderful

      A Prayer for Owen Meany is a poignant story about a very special boy named...Owen Meany. Our narrator in this book is John, Owen's best friend. The events in this book really get rolling when Owen accidentally kills John's mother. The wheels are set in motion for Owen, who believes that everything happens for a reason. Owen also believes he is "God's instrument". Owen believes there is a special purpose for his tiny size and unusual voice. This, John's telling of his time with Owen, is a riveting read. The narration goes back and forth from their childhoods and adolescence together, as young adults during the Vietnam era, and John living in Canada in the '80's. Irving has such a unique writing style of going back and forth giving little hints here and there of what's to come with the characters. Long before we get to the very last page, we realize that everything that we've read was relevant and it all comes together in the end. Owen is such a unique and unforgettable character. I'm already looking forward to re-reading A Prayer for Owen Meany.

      8 out of 9 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted June 2, 2004

      a beautiful story

      all I can say is wow. The best.

      8 out of 11 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Posted November 4, 2008

      Incredible

      This book is probably one of my favorites. Owen Meany is probably one of my favorite characters in literature - the plot moves slowly at times, but the novel has a great overall meaning and depth. This is a slow read, so make sure you have time! But it's definitely worth it - a book you won't forget.

      6 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted May 11, 2004

      An amazing read

      After reading this book years ago it has become and remained my favorite novel. The story is so engaging and every word becomes important to the revealing ending in such a way that you can hardly believe how intracite a weave Irving has created. I truly feel that this book is a miracle of faith, and one that anyone can find solace in no matter how strong or weak their personal faith might be.

      6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Posted July 8, 2011

      Don't give up on this one!

      I read this book 11 years ago, and it still sticks in my mind. I HATED the book at first, but I am one of those people who has to finish what she reads. I am so glad I did. By the end of the book, I was thinking OMG all capital letters lol. Everything came together and made this a fantastic read if you just stick it out.

      5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted December 30, 2009

      Worth the read

      I enjoyed the book. The middle of it seemed a little sluggish but it all comes together in such a way, near the end, that it all makes sense. Irving devotes alot of time developing the characters so you really have a sense of who they are. My first reading of anything by John Irving but certainly will read others.

      5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted May 26, 2003

      The Best Book I've Ever Read!

      I read this book for english my final year of high school. Irving does a brilliant job of bringing Owen to life. A very moving story that leaves you not wanting to put the book down..

      5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Anonymous

      Posted April 18, 2012

      An all time fave

      I adore this book. The characters are wonderful and the denouement is breathtaking. It will stay with you; I read it years ago and have never forgotten. Don't miss it. Other faves include The God of Small Things; Cutting For Stone; Hunting and Gathering; She's Come Undone; just to give you an idea of the literary company I keep. If you like Twilight or that Shades of Gray smut you probably won't like this.

      4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Posted September 14, 2011

      Starts interesting, and ends even more interesting

      Owen Meany is a very intriguing character. As you begin to read the novel, Owen is discovered to have many peculiar traits including his short stature and loud, nasal voice. As the plot develops, and the characters around Owen mature, its very interesting to watch as Owen stays the same. By the end of the book, you will be so enraptured by the masterful creation of Owen Meany that you will be upset to lose him. There are so many twists and exciting adventures in this novel that make John Irving's novel an excellent read.

      4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Posted December 14, 2009

      a prayer for owen meany

      compelling, heartfelt, funny and amazing. a permanent place in my heart and library.

      4 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Posted September 12, 2012

      ¿A Prayer for Owen Meany¿ is an unrealistic but ultimately inter

      “A Prayer for Owen Meany” is an unrealistic but ultimately interesting novel by writer John Irving. Disappointingly, the majority of Irving’s writing is painfully detailed, and he often adds superfluous character descriptions. The overall story is well thought out, and the events fit together well, but the execution is subpar.
      The narrator of the story is a young boy, and eventually man, named Johnny Wheelwright. However, the story’s real focal point is Johnny’s best friend Owen Meany. Owen is a dwarf child with a unique voice that is written in ALL CAPS in the book. Owen is an interesting character, but not especially lovable. He can be selfish and nagging at times, but the real trouble of the book is that you are forced to sympathize with and aggrandize Owen, whether you want to or not. The events that occur to him and that are supposedly “fated” create Owen’s true uniqueness, but Owen’s character gets to unrightfully take credit for that. These same events also create sympathy for Owen’s character although they were completely out of his control and mask how frustrating his character really is.
      As a story, the novel is completely unrealistic. Irving uses God and religion as a major force in the book and uses God to explain many completely unbelievable occurrences. The book is heavily religious (and political too), and I do not recommend it for people who do not enjoy books based solely in fate and religion.
      The story can also be inappropriate at times, especially for younger readers. Irving explicitly details the sexual and pubescent encounters of the young boys, to the point of making the story uncomfortable to read.
      Overall, the story fits together well, but as a whole is simply unrealistic. The writing is very “thick” and overly detailed and can be very opinionated or inappropriate. Some of the scenes are interesting, but the book is very “hit or miss” based on the reader.

      3 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    • Posted April 8, 2010

      A classic to pass on to my children

      Fantastic read. It made me laugh and cry. I bought it for my 27 yr. old son and he read the first chapter and called to tell me how much he was enjoying it.

      3 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

      Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
    See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 405 Customer Reviews

    If you find inappropriate content, please report it to Barnes & Noble
    Why is this product inappropriate?
    Comments (optional)