A Prayer for Owen Meany was the top vote-getter in my reader poll to select this year’s challenge books. As an Irving fan, and having grown up as a fac brat at a New England prep school, you would think that this work (narrated by a fac brat at a New England prep school) would have been right up my alley. Yet I got stalled about a third of the way in. Between Prayer and Middlemarch, my 2012 Readers’ Choice Challenge had ground to a halt.
One reason was certainly the fact that Owen’s unusual voice is rendered in ALL CAPS. When the novel was written in the mid-80s, this may not have been particularly jarring for readers, but to me it seemed like he was constantly shouting.
I don’t want you to describe to me—not ever—what you were doing to that poor boy to make him sound like that; but if you ever do it again, please cover his mouth with your hand.
I was also put off by the completely superfluous diatribes against President Reagan. Not that I’m a fan of Ronald Reagan by any means, but these were completely unnecessary and only made a long and complicated narrative that much longer and convoluted. However, as my favorite sister-in-law pointed out, there are political diatribes in all of Irving’s novels. In this case, I think they made the work seem rather dated.
Finally, I must admit I was also worried about where the main theme of religious faith was going to take the story. I guess I myself should have had greater faith in Irving. While faith is a key theme, it is mixed in with symbolism, sex, and the supernatural, all with a focus on great storytelling. And, incredibly, it all comes together in the end.
If it sounds like I ended up loving this book despite starting it back in April and only finishing it in August, I really did. It probably won’t displace A Widow for One Year as my favorite Irving, but I will almost certainly be rereading it at some point.
It may have taken a trip to the wilds of Idaho with this as my only novel, but I was finally redeemed by Prayer.
I think that was when the headmaster realized he had lost; he realized then that he was finished. Because, what could he do? Was he going to tell us to stop praying? We kept our heads bowed; and we kept praying. Even as awkward as he was, the Rev. Mr. Merrill had made it clear to us that there was no end to praying for Owen Meany.