July 20, 2007

Review:A Prayer for Owen Meany

A Prayer for Owen Meany
by John Irving
First 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.

Now if that first couple of sentences don't peak one's interest I don't know what will. John Wheelwright tells the story of his best friend, Owen Meany, who had a tremendous faith that he was an instrument of God. The story moves back and forth from the boys' childhood in the 60s to John's adult life in the 80s, filling in the gaps to that initial statement.

While the first sentence is a great hook, the reader quickly gets bogged down with all the details of Wheelwright's impressions. I sometimes wondered if what he was saying served any purpose in the story. And it felt quite a bit longer than I expected it would. If this wasn't a mass market paperback with teeny tiny letters smooshed together the book could easily be 1000 pages. But I couldn't leave the question of the meaning of Owen's life unanswered. I cried in the first chapter; I've heard that a lot of people cry at the end as well.

I liked the story as far as plot goes. You find yourself rooting for Owen because it's clear he has a huge heart hidden within his tiny body. While I was reading I was bored with all the minute details about every little thing. By the end, though, I realized that pretty much every detail did matter. They all, together, drew a clear picture once the ending was made known.

But ultimately I find I can't like this book too much. I loved Owen and I liked the child version of John but the concept of faith in this book is false. I could not reconcile Owen Meany as the epitome of true faith with how Holy Scripture describes true faith. Since I believe this idea of faith is at the heart of Irving's message I have to take issue with the author's worldview. It's inaccurately based on experience. Why did God bother to give us the Bible and instruct us to live by it if we can have a faith in Him apart from it?

I don't intend to preach a sermon on what true faith is and how one finds it; I only wanted to explain what my issue is with this book. I disagree with the premise behind the book therefore my pleasure in the plot is soured. I know I am in the minority in my low rating but I'm giving my honest opinion.

Out of curiosity I watched Simon Birch, the movie loosely based on the book. It was cute but not wonderful. I would say I liked it better than the book. And it didn't take nearly as long to get through.


kookiejar said...

Does that mean you believe that people who can't read, or those without direct exposure to the Bible (for instance those who live in third world countries) can't have faith in the God of Abraham?

I'm just curious.

It seems to me that it would be unfair for that to be a stipulation for God to set upon mankind, knowing that there will always be some who will not hear the Word through no fault of their own.

Petunia said...

See now Kookiejar, I have tried to make this blog not about religion for just this reason. I want to avoid debates that can become heated. This is a great question and one that deserves a thorough answer. It's just the kind of question that pastors love to answer. If we were visiting in real life I probably would tackle it but this type of forum makes this kind of discussion difficult at best. Suffice it to say that Irving's and my religious views are just too different.

Thorpe said...

The opening line is on Simon Birch (slightly altered of course). I think it stands out clearer when spoken to you like in the film. Many quote in the film I thought were quite powerful thanks to the book.

kookiejar said...

I can accept that, but your review made me very curious. No worries.

Framed said...

I loved this book. I thought it was wonderful how all those small details are so fully explained at the end. I can definitely see how that explanation could lead John to at least more fully fully explore his faith, especially considering the symbolism of what Owen does in that last chapter.

Trish said...

Very interesting review! I just picked this one up a few days ago, but won't get to it for a long long time. I did start reading "Garp", but quit after the first 30 pages (too busy, not a good time!). I also started and stopped reading CiderHouse rules years ago. I'm wondering if I'm meant to ever even finish an Irving book...

Petunia said...

framed-the overwhelming details make the ending that much more rich. I really did like the story. I probably would have loved it with no problems if it was just the story of Owen and John growing from childhood to adulthood. John as an adult ruined it for me I think.

trish-I have the Cidar House Rules and I'm very curious about it. But I have way too many other books to read first. It may be a year or two before I get to it.