In this student submission, Ella Yates reflects on John Irving’s 1987 novel A Prayer for Owen Meany and what it means to her.
A Prayer for Owen Meany follows the character John Wheelwright as he reminisces on his lifelong friendship with Owen Meany.
“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” is how John Irving starts his 1989 novel A Prayer for Owen Meany. While these are the first words of the book, they weren’t the first words inside the copy of the novel that I read. In 1999, my dad gifted a copy of the book to my mom when they first started dating. Inside the first fold is a letter my dad wrote to her explaining why this book was so important to him. As an English teacher and an adorer of this novel, my dad begged me for four years to attempt to read this novel. So finally in the last month of 2022, I took on the challenge.
While my dad told me how the message of the book has stayed with him for the last thirty years, it was the character of Johnny that really stood out to me. As a narrator, Johnny brings an interesting perspective to the story by retelling this story from over twenty years in the future. The narration primarily focuses on the stories of Johnny and Owen’s childhood into their early adult years, there are breaks where Johnny talks from twenty years in the future. Though the book’s title refers to the character of Owen, I found Johnny a more complex character scarred by his memories of his childhood and young adulthood with Owen and the mysteries surrounding their lives. As the book unfolds most of these mysteries get revealed to Johnny and the readers, but it doesn’t end with a happy resolution for Johnny. He is still haunted by his memories of Owen Meany and the last lines are a cry out to God about how he is still grieving his past. This unsatisfactory ending stood out to me. Time can’t erase the impact Owen had on Johnny, whether that impact is good or bad, the memories still come back to haunt and inspire Johnny at random moments. Early in the book, Johnny is describing the grief he felt when his mother died in a beautifully written paragraph. He says that he thinks about her in random moments and in ripples. While he doesn’t say the same about Owen, as readers we see firsthand those ripples of grief and reflection about Owen.
Much like how Johnny still thinks about Owen after twenty years, I can’t help but think about how this story has stuck with my dad for decades as well. My dad used to teach this book to his classes and now he and I have had discussions about the book. If Johnny’s character didn’t impact me just from the nature of the story, he has impacted me by giving me something I can endlessly talk to my dad about.
This is Ella’s second piece for the Blog! Read her first piece on The Notebook here
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