Book Review: A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

A Prayer for Owen Meany
By John Irving

On rare occasions, a movie made from a book is actually better than the book itself. Not often, but it does happen. Such is the case in the movie adaptation of Mr. Irving’s book, A Prayer for Owen Meany. The movie version is Simon Birch, starring Ashley Judd, Oliver Platt, and the small actor who was the perfect picture of who I would have expected Simon Birch/Owen Meany to be, was fantastic. I saw the movie several years ago and loved it.

As I have mentioned in past posts, I have taken the 2017 Pop Sugar Reading Challenge. One of the books we are to read must cover the lifespan of a character. I immediately thought of A Prayer for Owen Meany, knowing that it was the inspiration for the movie. While it is true that any book made into a movie will be different from the other, I was not prepared for how big the differences were in this case.

The story line focuses on the friendship of 2 boys, Johnny, and his diminutive friend, Owen. In addition to being tiny, Owen’s voice is extremely unique and grating. Owen is really small, so small that Johnny and the other children in the Sunday School class pick him up and pass him from person to person, similar to what happens in a mosh pit, albeit without the loud music and strobe lights. The torture of Owen occurs when Mrs. Walker, the unhappy teacher, sneaks out for a clandestine cigarette.

Johnny is the son of an unwed mother he adores. Who’s the daddy is the big question. (Sounds like something for the detestable Maury Povich Show, doesn’t it?) Mom won’t tell anyone, not even Johnny. She comes to watch her son and Owen’s Little League game one day. Owen is up to bat and the coach gives him the okay to swing away. They are losing the final game of the season anyway so why not give Owen a chance to hit? Owen always walks to first, but on this fateful day he hits a hard foul ball accidentally hitting John’s mother in the head, killing her instantly. Despite the tragedy, they remain good friends. Owen wonders what he could ever do to make up for his friend’s loss.

And there the book and the movie diverge – a lot. Few of the characters in the book are like their movie counterparts. John Irving’s Owen claims to be religious, but uses the worst language, including swear words, is extremely opinionated, and pulls very mean pranks to get revenge, even desecrating a sacred icon. On top of this he believes he is an instrument of God. He is not very likeable whereas Simon was a doll.

Johnny, on the other hand, was a great boy in the film. Irving’s character is an insecure, whiny, weak, lackluster sad sack. He’s lived in Canada for 20 years, and is still needy, insecure, single, obsessed with American politics, JFK, Reagan, the Vietnam War, and repeatedly carries on about his religious indecisiveness. He was so hard to like. He and Owen were really irritating.

Though there were many dissimilarities between the two versions, some of the funniest parts of the both versions were the same. I laughed so hard when I was reading the passage where they were passing Owen around the Sunday School class. The disastrous Christmas pageant, too, when Owen was the Baby Jesus lying in the hay with a hefty boy coming down via wires as the announcing angel. Baby Jesus could talk! Miracle upon miracle! I could just picture it. I was laughing so hard that I was wheezing and short of breath. My daughter was so worried about the lack of oxygen to my lungs (and quite possibly to my brain) that she thought I needed medical attention.

Owen does something dramatic at the end of the book and movie of real significance, but the endings are totally different. You can guess which ending I liked the best. If you want my opinion, skip the book, which is over 600 pages of weirdness and see the movie, Simon Birch, instead. I give the book 3 out of 5 stars because of the funny parts and for being the inspiration for the movie.

What have you been reading? Inquiring minds want to know. Happy Reading!!

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