By Chet Yarbrough
A Prayer for Owen Meany
By John Irving
Narrated by Joe Barrett
Like quick sand, every chapter of John Irving’s “A Prayer for Owen Meany” creates a mystery that pulls the listener deeper into its story.
Why is Owen Meany’s voice so high-pitched and single noted? Who is the “lady in red”? Who is Owen Meany’s illegitimate friend’s father? Why do the main characters keep practicing “the shot”?
What is Owen Meany’s recurring dream? Right foot, left foot, body, and brain; soon you are consumed by Irving’s mysteries.
Joe Barrett’s spoken presentation is terrific because it enhances the written meaning of the story. James Atlas precedes the narration with an interview of John Irving, the author. The Atlas’ interview sets the table for what you are about to hear.
Irving writes a story about growing up in Anywhere, America where the pious are weak, the rich are intimidating and the children are indulged. It is an age like today with ministers preaching and not believing, parents teaching right and doing wrong, and children maturing physically and wasting mentally. Owen Meany is an exception, as this story tells the listener.
Owen Meany is modeled like the little man in The Tin Drum, a book about a dwarf like German citizen observing the beginning, progress, and ending of the WWII German tragedy. Owen Meany is a stunted American citizen living at the beginning of an evolving Vietnam American tragedy.
The subject of Vietnam is generally understood as an American disaster. It earned its American anti-war rebellion. Irving’s story crystallizes the anxiety and frustration of that time. He offers an answer to what we can do when we become anxious and frustrated about things that seem beyond our control. It is not an easy path but redemption for atrocity begins with people of faith who see reality, have an inner moral compass, and act with a relentless commitment to stop senseless acts of war.
The only quibble about Irving’s story is linear time distortion that weaves the story in and out of the past; the movement back and forth is like re-starting a motor that is running smoothly but stalls because of a faulty timing chain.
There is more than an anti-war message in the book. It is a tale that tells how most humans live like cave dwelling shadows with little self understanding and no purposeful direction. Owen Meany does not live like a shadow of himself. He acts decisively. Owen Meany makes concrete choices; choices that he believes reveal God’s purpose and His pre-ordained plan. It is a matter of Faith to Owen Meany.