Yesterday, on Thanksgiving Eve, while on my way to pick up a Firehouse sub for dinner, I finished listening to the audiobook of John Irving’s “A Prayer for Owen Meany.”
I don’t know why it’s taken me this long to pay attention to this book. Twenty years ago, a coworker was obsessed with Irving and recommended it to me. She gave me a copy of the book for Christmas that year, a copy I lost or gave away since then, but I picked up another copy somewhere along the way. I still didn’t read it. Instead, I started listening to it on audio back in mid-October.
It’s a lengthy book. I think the audiobook was 17 hours or more. I’m not going to write a long plot summary of it. It’s a detailed slice-of-life story that follows two friends from childhood into adult life, culminating in the predicted death of one of them. That’s not a spoiler. The death is mentioned throughout the book and Irving waits until the very last few pages of the book to even tell you how the character dies. And it’s Irving at his very best. I’ve only read a handful of his books, but I’ve never been disappointed.
As a writer, I always hope to take something away from a good book. Owen Meany did not disappoint in that aspect. A lot of the story is driven with dialogue and Irving keeps it simple, and yet very repetitive. There were lots of “he said” and “she said” as characters spoke back and forth, but nothing else. I liked the simplicity of this and the repetition too.
The book is also told in the first person, a point of view I like to write in myself, but it’s told from the best friend and not Owen himself. There’s nothing spectacular about telling someone’s story from a friend’s point-of-view. It gives the reader someone else’s view of the story, someone who was there. The reader just has to trust that person, and you certainly trust him in this book.
Voice is also important. Owen has a very distinct voice that never changes from childhood into adulthood. There’s a reason for that! The narrator did a good job of using a character voice, but if you look in the physical book, Owen’s voice is always in CAPS. This shows the importance of it, and also makes it somewhat irritating which was Irving’s intention.
I could go on and on dissecting the dynamics of the book. There’s a lot about sexuality in the book, and religion too, which is typical Irving. It’s rare that I remember a book for a long time, long enough to suggest it to others for years to come, but I know that Owen Meany will be one of those books. I’ll never forget it.