I started writing the review for John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany 10 times. Literally. I’d get a sentence in, and then lose all direction. It has been frustrating. To be clear, I enjoyed the book. More than enjoyed, I devoured all 600 pages in two days. I am a longtime fan of John Irving; he’s the king of New England (catch that reference?). I blame A Prayer for Owen Meany for why I am so behind on my reviews; for a while I refused to write anything else until I could justly capture and comprehend the mess of feelings I have for this magical little boy.
I am a compassionate person, but I am known for tamping down this quality in myself and frequently default to cynicism and eye rolling at writings of the saccharin and sappy nature. My sense of romance and magic is offbeat (as mentioned in my review of The Princess Bride). I do, though, have an embarrassingly large soft spot for Meg Ryan romcoms (pre Kate & Leopold), but that’s a whole different bag of self-contradiction to unpack. After doing some digging, I realized this is why I had difficulty reviewing A Prayer for Owen Meany. I didn’t want to admit that the damn kid got to me. He got to me hard. And he got to me on a very personal level.
The reason John Irving is so popular in American culture is his ability to highlight the good in humanity without overselling it. None of Irving’s characters are perfect or one dimensional. They exhibit compassion and the capacity to grow. A Prayer for Owen Meany uses it’s titular character to bring out that compassion in those who surround him. As much as it would be easy for one to say that an Owen Meany type is such an extreme character, he could never exist in the real world. The truth is, we’ve all come across that person (or persons) in our lives; the ones who display that little bit of magic and inspire us to be more open with our benevolence; the ones who remind us there are no tragedies or shortcomings (no pun intended) so large that we should forget what it means to extend a hand to others; the ones that unite us through our love of them. The ones who are simply too good for this world.
A Prayer for Owen Meany hit on something specific to my life, and Irving sold me on his portrayal of it. So I don’t want to taint this beautiful and cathartic moment with addressing the weaknesses of the novel, though there are some. All I want to say is, if ever there was a time we needed the Owen Meanys of the world, it is now. So do yourself a favor and introduce yourself to him, and pay his magic forward.
Rating: 4 Armadillos
I dedicate this review to CD. All of those who knew you, even if just for a moment, use their hearts to love a little stronger, extend a little further, and embrace a little wider, because of the magic you brought to our lives. Your goodness will always live on.