Owen Meany – Lessons for Us All

I just finished reading A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving. This book was first published in 1989, and I am not sure why it has taken so long for me to get to it. I read The World According to Garp several times back in the day, as well as The Hotel New Hampshire, The Cider House Rules, A Son of the Circus, and A Widow for One Year. How did I miss the best of the lot? (I admit that I have read none of Mr Irving’s more recent works – 1999 being the “newest” on my list of Reads.)

Well, at least now I have read it and can report that it is worth every minute. There are a multitude of reviews and re-tellings of the plot on line, so I will not bother with that. What is amazing to me is how the 50’s and 60’s are so finely evoked in this tale of faith. Not to mention the narrator’s sharp tongue on all things Reagan and conservative. Obviously, this is my kind of story! For anyone too young to have endured the anti-war / pro-war war that raged in America during the Vietnam fiasco, I strongly recommend this book. And, for those who are too young to remember the Iran-Contra fiasco, this is a nice refresher course in how American politics waltzed into the Land of Absurdity from which it has never returned.

But probably the real reason to read Meany is to explore the world of Faith and what it means in our culture. Certainly, we hear this word every day in America. God is another word we hear all too often coming at us as a justification for just about anything. Irving’s presentation of faith and god are more in line with what even an agnostic can understand. Of course, the precept that the lead character has seen his date of death and knows that it is his fate, are not common to most people’s experience. But we are dealing with an Irving novel, lest we forget, and strange things are always the norm.

After sleeping on this, I feel that Irving is asking his reader to do some serious thinking about what constitutes a miracle in a world without faith. I, for one, do not believe in miracles, for I have no faith in such phenom. Of course, I am not alone in this regard. However, there are many among us who are willing, if not eager, to see miracles where there are none. Then, I have to ask myself, would the god of my understanding really create a life, a strange and idiosyncratic life at that, to save 7 small Vietnamese orphans? If he would do that, why would he let us have a war there in the first place. Seems a lot of trouble to go through to not fix what was severely broken in the world. And, it certainly could not have been for the additional bonus of bringing the narrator to “find” his faith and start going to church. That seems like over kill to me. But then, I am a Skeptic of the first order.

And, above all else, in Owen Meany, one finds the funniest of all Irving’s characters. It is his forthrightness that makes him so. I found myself laughing out loud countless times throughout this novel and in tears at the end – tears for Owen and for me – there was no more to read!