Rereading A Prayer for Owen Meany

May 13, 2013 | 11 comments
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I never re-read books, but I decided to read this one, twenty-two years after I first read it, because “he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.” That’s a quote from the first sentence of the book, but it is true, literally true, for me, too.  I feel somewhat guilty that this book triggered my conversion, because it is not G-rated; in fact, it is a little crass.  It isn’t sweet and it isn’t fluffy and it criticizes religion and miracles and believers just as much as it celebrates them. But I don’t think I read this book by accident. I have a vivid recollection of standing in the aisle of a used book store in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with this book in my hands. I think someone knew I needed Owen Meany to save my life.

Rereading it was scary; what if it was stupid this time? The thought gave me, as Owen Meany would have said, THE SHIVERS.  But I was flattened by how . . . perfect . . . it was.  Two decades later, I was stunned to see the ways in which this was exactly the book that could present the kind of faith that would make sense to someone like me . . . someone who, like Owen Meany, absolutely believes in God, but is disgusted by the piously orthodox hypocrites that hide behind religion, someone who expects God to have a detailed plan for his life, but isn’t a puritanical killjoy.  I thought its work was done the first time I read it, but, if anything, it was more of a gift the second time, as I realized how perfect this book was for someone like me.
It’s almost as if Owen Meany was AN INSTRUMENT IN THE HANDS OF GOD.

11 Responses to Rereading A Prayer for Owen Meany

  1. Russell Arben Fox on May 13, 2013 at 9:15 am

    Julie,

    I think I’d heard you talk about your experience with Owen Meany before, but whether I did or not, it’s good to hear about your “testimony” of the book. I was introduced to John Irving’s work by an English professor at BYU, I believe; perhaps he recommended Owen Meany in particular, but if he did, I didn’t read it first, but instead read The Cider House Rules, which absolutely blew me away. I believe I was forcing myself to read some Steinbeck at around the same time, and between Irving and him, I think I first caught a glimpse of the kind of moral power which a novel can have (something that I have all-too-rarely exposed myself too in the years since). Owen Meany was the second Irving I read, and while I was already a Christian and a Mormon, Irving’s creation of a world in which faith enters in and makes a certain kind of joy and sacrifice and meaningfulness possible in our ordinary lives utterly persuaded and strengthened me as a believer as well. An absolute gem of a book–and brilliantly constructed, with almost every line seeming to foretell the novel’s ending, which the reader knows about from the first page of the book, and the last couple of pages remaining immensely gripping (and paralleling Jesus’s death on the cross as well) all the same. It is one of my very favorite novels, and well worth a return to.

  2. Craig H. on May 13, 2013 at 9:19 am

    Thanks Julie, for another reminder about finding God in a place/book you weren’t supposed to, or didn’t expect to. In fact maybe precisely because you weren’t supposed to/didn’t expect to, you recognize it even more than you would when looking in an officially approved place/book. It just makes the wonder even deeper.

  3. Steve on May 13, 2013 at 12:53 pm

    I confess I didn’t make it through Owen Meany and never made it through any John Irving book, but I nevertheless applaud any writer who can speak effectively to faith even if he uses half the words Irving does. Too much literature is negative or paints people of faith as imbeciles, but if at the end of any work of fiction you can feel joy or hope or see lightness where everyone else sees darkness then I think it is probably worth reading…and possibly even rereading.

  4. Marie on May 13, 2013 at 1:20 pm

    I read Owen Meany about ten years ago on the recommendation of an agnostic friend and found it strengthening and inspiring, though I wasn’t going through any major spiritual struggles at the time. I remember being stunned that a modern novel by an author respected in literary circles dared to say so much, and powerfully, about God and religious faith and their worth in the modern secular world. Perhaps I will reread it as well.

  5. Jim Cobabe on May 13, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    YES, JULIE, IT’S A GREAT STORY, ISN’T IT?

  6. Twila on May 13, 2013 at 8:24 pm

    I love when God pops up in unexpected (or what some might consider) unworthy places. I think that was the first John Irving novel I ever read and I loved it. It like it even better knowing that it was part of your conversion story.

  7. Orwell on May 14, 2013 at 9:00 pm

    I loved that book as well when I first read it about ten years ago. I recently re-read it expecting to be disappointed — but nope, still as powerful as the first time.

  8. Aaron R. on May 15, 2013 at 3:12 am

    Right — this just moved from my wishlist to my bookshelf. Thanks, Julie.

  9. Mossbloom on May 15, 2013 at 12:25 pm

    When I was reading the end of the book, my husband and daughter walked in and tried to involve me in a discussion they were having. They didn’t notice that I was in tears. I had to yell at them to get out and I think I even threw a pillow or something at them. So it was kind of a bad influence on me. :) I loved it though and found it very enriching.

  10. Mathew on May 19, 2013 at 11:05 pm

    This was the first John Irving book I read and it sent me on an Irving jag where I knocked out three or four more of his books in a couple of weeks. A Prayer For Owen Meany is still my favorite for its deft handling of religious themes and humor.

  11. Spence on September 25, 2013 at 11:15 am

    It’s one of the best books I’ve ever read.