On “A Prayer for Owen Meany”

I don’t have time to participate this year, but in honor of National Novel Writing Month, I’m going to post a brief note each day on a novel that had a significant impact on my life in one way or another. I start with John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany because it had such a profound impact at so many levels of my life.


After dropping out of high school two months before graduation, I returned to finish my last two credits at an alternative high school and earn my diploma. Students in my English class were learning basic grammar, reading comprehension, and vocabulary. After about two weeks in the class, the teacher took me aside and handed me a copy of A Prayer for Owen Meany. My assignment, she told me, was to read this novel and write a critical essay on some aspect of Irving’s message and the literary devices used to portray that message.


From the moment Owen Meany was introduced, I was enthralled. Not only did Irving have the most sophisticated writing style that I had ever encountered, but he was a master at symbolism and foreshadowing. The novel made me think about the interaction between religion and faith, a dichotomy that I have spent much of my life thinking about ever since. It made me think about politics and the importance of our personal politics reflecting our personal beliefs. It made me think about levels of morality and the way that relationships change us forever.


A few quotes:


  • “It’s not God who’s fucked up, it’s the screamers that say they believe in Him and claim to pursue their ends in His holy name.”
  • What do Americans know about morality?  They don’t want their presidents to have penises but they don’t mind if their presidents covertly arrange to support the Nicaraguan rebel forces after Congress has restricted such aid; they don’t want their presidents to deceive their wives but they don’t mind if their presidents deceive Congress—lie to the people and violate the people’s constitution!