Here’s why I love this book…
It doesn’t happen often, a book that stays with me this long.
A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY by John Irving is the best book I’ve read in over a year. Here’s what Amazon says:
“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.”
It’s a book about faith, about destiny and courage and loss, about the very nature of our life here, revealed in such a warm, compassionate, story that I wished it wouldn’t have ended. Published in 1989, it feels like it could have been written yesterday. Here’s some samples:
When someone you love dies, and you’re not expecting it, you don’t lose her all at once; you lose her in pieces over a long time – the way the mail stops coming, and her scent fades from the pillows and even from the clothes in her closet and drawers. Gradually, you accumulate the parts of her that are gone. Just when the day comes – when there’s a particular missing part that overwhelms you with the feeling that she’s gone, forever – there comes another day, and another specifically missing part.
What do Americans know about morality? They don’t want their presidents to have penises but they don’t mind if their presidents covertly arrange to support the Nicaraguan rebel forces after Congress has restricted such aid; they don’t want their presidents to deceive their wives, but they don’t mind if their presidents deceive Congress – lie to the people and violate the people’s constitution!
(Owen always speaks in all caps. You’ll understand when you read the book):
“THE ONLY WAY YOU CAN GET AMERICANS TO NOTICE ANYTHING IS TO TAX THEM OR DRAFT THEM OR KILL THEM. IF YOU ABOLISH THE DRAFT, said Owen Meany, MOST AMERICANS WILL SIMPLY STOP CARING ABOUT WHAT WE’RE DOING IN OTHER PARTS OF THE WORLD.”
“When it was so dark at the St. Michael’s playground that we couldn’t see the basket, we couldn’t see Mary Magdalene, either. What Owen liked best was to practice the shot until we lost Mary Magdalene in the darkness. Then he would stand under the basket with me and say, “CAN YOU SEE HER?”
“Not anymore,” I’d say.
“YOU CANT SEE HER, BUT YOU KNOW SHE’S STILL THERE – RIGHT?” he would say.
“Of course she’s still there!” I’d say.
“YOU’RE SURE?” he’d ask me.
“Of course I’m sure!” I’d say.
“BUT YOU CAN’T SEE HER,” he’d say – very teasingly. “HOW DO YOU KNOW SHE’S STILL THERE IF YOU CAN’T ACTUALLY SEE HER?”
“Because I know she’s still there – because I know she couldn’t have gone anywhere – because I just know!” I would say.
“YOU HAVE NOT DOUBT SHE’S THERE?” he nagged at me.
“Of course I have no doubt!” I said.
“BUT YOU CAN’T SEE HER – YOU COULD BE WRONG,” he said.
“No, I’m not wrong – she’s there, I know she’s there!” I yelled at him.
“YOU ABSOLUTELY KNOW SHE’S THERE – EVEN THOUGH YOU CAN’T SEE HER?” he asked me.
“Yes!” I screamed.
“WELL, NOW YOU KNOW HOW I FEEL ABOUT GOD,” said Owen Meany. “I CAN’T SEE HIM – BUT I ABSOLUTELY KNOW HE IS THERE!”
“IF YOU CARE ABOUT SOMETHING, YOU HAVE TO PROTECT IT – IF YOU’RE LUCKY ENOUGH TO FIND A WAY OF LIFE YOU LOVE, YOU HAVE TO FIND THE COURAGE TO LIVE IT.”
“You’ve witnessed what you c-c-c-call a miracle and now you believe – you believe everything,” Pastor Merrill said. “But miracles don’t c-c-c-cause belief – real miracles don’t m-m-m-make faith out of thin air; you have to already have faith in order to believe in real miracles.”
I read the passage Owen had underlined most fervently in his copy of St. Thomas Aquinas – ‘Demonstration of God’s Existence from Motion.’
‘Since everything that is loved functions as a sort of instrument of the first mover, if there was no first mover, then whatever things are in motion would be simply instruments. Of course, if an infinite series of movers and things moved were possible, with no first mover, then the whole infinity of movers and things moved would be instruments. Now, it is ridiculous, even to unlearned people, to suppose that instruments are moved but not by any principal agent. For, this would be like supposing that the construction of a box or bed could be accomplished by putting a saw or a hatchet to work without any carpenter to use them. Therefore, there must be a first mover existing above all – and this we call God.’
“Don’t be like those damn priests!” he said. “They believe that story, but they wouldn’t listen to this one! They even teach that other story, but they tell us our story is worse than some kinda sin! Owen was no sin!” said Mr. Meany.
“Owen b-b-b-believed that there was a purpose to everything that h-h-h-happened to him – that G-G-G-God meant for the story of his life to have some m-m-m-meaning. God had p-p-p-picked Owen,” Pastor Merrill said.
“I WANT YOU TO SAY A PRAYER FOR ME,” Owen Meany had said to him. Why had that prayer been so difficult for the Rev. Mr. Merrill? “IT’S YOUR BUSINESS, ISN’T IT?” Owen had asked. Why had Mr. Merrill appeared almost stricken to agree? For wasn’t it, indeed, his BUSINESS, not only to pray for Owen Meany, then and now and forever, but here in Hurd’s Church – at Owen’s funeral – to bear witness to how Owen had lived his life, as if he were on divine assignment, as if he were following God’s holy orders; and whether or not the Rev. Lewis Merrill believed in everything that Owen had believed, wasn’t it also the Rev. Mr. Merrill’s BUSINESS to give testimony to how faithful a servant of God Owen Meany had been?
At times I envy Lewis Merrill; I wish someone could trick me the way I tricked him into having such absolute and unshakable faith. For although I believe I know what the real miracles are, my belief in God disturbs and unsettles me much more than not believing ever did; unbelief seems vastly harder to me now than belief does – but belief poses so many unanswerable questions!
I got my love of books, of reading, from my mom, who’s gone now. She would’ve liked this book, except for some of the profanity.
If you don’t read one other book this year, read this one. It will stay with you the rest of your life.