Friday, July 9, 2010

A Prayer for Owen Meany

I grabbed this book from a coworker on a day when I planned to have in-class reading but didn't remember my book. She said it was one that is being taught quite a bit in AP English classes now and she thought it was great, but not one that could be taught at our school, so going in, I knew there were going to be something of the mature sort. I read it for a while, then set it aside because it is not really a hard read, but it isn't something to just breeze through, and I just had too much going on. I even hesitated to pick it up again, but Owen's character was too compelling, the story too well written, the foreshadowing sparked too much of my curiosity to stop.

This has a couple different story lines. The two main characters are John Wheelwright and Owen Meany. Owen is short, has a strange voice, and first gets attention in his Sunday School class because the kids all take turns picking him up and passing him around the room. John and Owen end up becoming very close friends, and most of the book is their experiences together from the time they are about eight until they are in their early twenties. It is set against the backdrop of post-WWII and continues until well into the Vietnam War. This concept is delightful, heart-breaking, hilarious and poignant. This is why I kept reading the book.

The other storyline is John in the mid-to-late 1980's, during the Iran-Contra scandal. This story line distracted and even irritated me. I really don't know why it was in the book. There were some interesting moments, English teacher to English teacher type things, as that is where John works as an adult, and I suppose it was included to illustrate the cyclical nature of things, but toward the end of the book, I would loosely scan this part. A couple times I was annoyed that he was so obsessed with his habit of reading the New York Times - Why? I really don't know.

So where does that leave me with this book? I would say that I could recommend it to someone based on a couple things. First, they have to be a serious reader who has the time to commit. As I said, the reading isn't hard for comprehension reasons, but it is a more advanced book. Second, it has to be someone who isn't easily offended when it comes to matters of religion, boys discussing what I'm considering a pretty common theme of sex (never depicted, just talked about - really, we journey with these boys through their teens...) and who enjoys what will probably be a classic for generations to come.* I enjoyed it while I read it, but don't know that I have any desire to revisit it.

*On a side note, and if this persuades/dissuades you either way, this the the book that Phil Jackson most commonly passes out to his players as part of his required reading for team members. That makes it slightly more intriguing to me, that he finds something about this book that he considers important enough to pass it out repeatedly. I mean, he has had a decent amount of success in his life. Also, if you liked the movie Simon Birch, that movie is apparently loosely based on this book - just as an FYI.

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