8 reviews

A Prayer for Owen Meany
by John Irving

Published: 2002-06-04
Hardcover : 672 pages
27 members reading this now
28 clubs reading this now
19 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 5 of 8 members
In the summer of 1953, two eleven-year-old boys—best friends—are playing in a Little League baseball game in Gravesend, New Hampshire. One of the boys hits a foul ball that kills the other boy’s mother. The boy who hits the ball doesn’t believe in accidents; Owen ...
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(In the summer of 1953, two eleven-year-old boys—best friends—are playing in a Little League baseball game in Gravesend, New Hampshire. One of the boys hits a foul ball that kills the other boy’s mother. The boy who hits the ball doesn’t believe in accidents; Owen Meany believes he is God’s instrument. What happens to Owen, after that 1953 foul ball, is extraordinary and terrifying.

A Prayer for Owen Meany was first published in 1989. This Modern Library edition includes a new Introduction by the author.

Editorial Review

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Discussion Questions

From the publisher:


1. Though he's portrayed as an instrument of God, Owen Meany causes the death of John's mother. What other deaths was Owen indirectly involved with? Do you find Owen's close relationship with death to support or undermine his miraculous purpose?

2. Owen speaks and writes in capital letters, emphasizing the potency of his strange voice. At the academy, he is even referred to as the Voice. Why is Owen's voice so important? What other occasions can you think of in which Owen's voice played an especially mean-ingful role?

3. Reverend Merrill always speaks of faith in tandem with doubt. Do you believe that one can exist without the other or that one strengthens the other? Was your opinion about Merrill's views on faith and doubt affected by the revelation of his relationship to John Wheelwright?

4. Merrill experiences a bogus miracle and resurgence of faith when John stages his mother's dressmaker dummy outside the church. Later, John's involvement in Owen's rescue of the Vietnamese chil-dren spurs John's own faith: "I am a Christian because of Owen Meany," he says. Do you think the genuineness of Owen's miracle makes the birth of John's faith more valid than the faith engendered by Merrill's bogus miracle?

5. The Meanys claim that, like Jesus, Owen was the product of a vir-gin birth. Owen dislikes the Catholic Church for turning away his parents, but Owen himself makes the Meanys leave the Christmas Pageant. Name other instances when Owen's feelings toward his family seem conflicted. Do you think Owen ever considers himself Christlike?

6. An observer necessary to the Christmas Pageant but seldom an ac-tive participant, John plays Joseph to Owen's baby Jesus. John refers to himself on other occasions as "just a Joseph." Do you see John's role as Joseph-like throughout the story? Are there other biblical characters with whom you identify John?

7. Did Irving's references to the armless Indian and the pawless armadillo prepare you for Owen's sacrifice? What other clues did Irving give about Owen's final heroic scene?

8. Throughout the novel, John gives hints to the forthcoming action, adding, "As you shall see." Did you find this to be an effective way to keep you reading and engaged in the story?

9. Owen Meany taught John that "Any good book is always in motion--from the general to the specific, from the particular to the whole and back again." Do you think Irving followed his own recipe for a good book? Supply examples in support of your position.

10. Given John's dislike of Gravesend Academy, which expelled Owen, did you find it interesting that John later taught at an academy in Toronto? In what other ways does John, as an adult, embrace issues or events that he was indifferent or hostile to as an adolescent?

11. John assists Owen in rescuing the children, but John always plays the supporting part in Owen's adventures. Based on the scenes in Toronto in the 1980s, do you think John ever escaped his support-ing role? How do you think John's retained virginity reflects on his sense of self?

12. Did your feelings about the U.S. involvement in Vietnam change after reading Irving's portrayal of the peace movement, the draft dodgers, and Owen's involvement in the army? Were you surprised by Owen's efforts to get to Vietnam?

13. John's reactions to and obsession with the Iran-Contra affair of the 1980s reflect his position as neither a true Canadian nor a true American. Do you think that non-Americans have a clearer vision of the machinations and deceptions within American politics? What did John's focus on American politics tell you about his adult character?

14. Irving frequently foreshadows tragedy; for example, hailstones hit John's mother on the head during her wedding day, providing a glimpse of her later death by a baseball. What other events does Irving foreshadow?

15. Several reviews call A Prayer for Owen Meany "Dickensian," and Irving himself incorporates scenes from Dickens in the story. In what ways does Irving's writing remind you of Dickens's? What other writers would you compare Irving to?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

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Member Reviews

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by stacy r. (see profile) 08/26/21

by Delia B. (see profile) 04/09/20

by Pam L. (see profile) 12/26/19

  "Does John Irving stand the test of time?"by Ulrika M. (see profile) 04/21/12

At one time, it seemed like wherever you went, or whatever books were discussed, John Irving's work was always there. Is he current? Probably not. Does his work stand the test of time? Good question of... (read more)

  "Best"by Abby T. (see profile) 02/26/11

  "Memorable characters"by Lynda C. (see profile) 07/22/10

Our members all felt that Irving created some very memorable characters in this story. He described them in great detail so that by the end of the book you felt like you really knew them and how they... (read more)

  "A Prayer for Owen Meany"by Maryann G. (see profile) 02/25/10

Owen Meany is such a fantastic character. There are scenes that are downright hilarious and some tragic. He is "bigger than life" in so many ways. The writing is amazing . . . one can't help wonder... (read more)

  "Not my style"by Kate L. (see profile) 12/02/09

This story felt unrealistic to me. The character of Owen Meany would never be treated in the real world as he was in the story. I finished the book only because it was for bookclub.

  "A Prayer for Owen Meany"by Debra D. (see profile) 08/16/09

We loved the drama, the unfolding of characters and wondering how it would end. It was interesting and filled us with good discussion.

  "We just didn't get it."by Colleen D. (see profile) 08/05/09

One lady in the group maintains this is her favorite book of all time. I know others feel the same way, but not the rest of my group.

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