John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meany, published by Ballantine in 1989, is a long, sprawling novel in the tradition of Charles Dickens and other nineteenth-century novelists. John Wheelwright, a former American who is now a Canadian citizen living in Toronto, tells the story. John recalls growing up in a small town in New Hampshire with a very unusual best friend, a tiny boy with a high voice named Owen Meany. Despite his strange appearance and voice, Owen is a boy with a strong personality, intellectual gifts, and an air of authority that enables him to take charge of a situation. Owen also possesses a strong religious faith and an uncanny knowledge of future events in his life—including the exact time and circumstances of his own tragic but heroic death. It is through Owen Meany that John becomes a religious believer.
A Prayer for Owen Meany is Irving's seventh novel. Compellingly readable, it contains a large cast of idiosyncratic small-town characters and has many hilarious scenes and episodes. It also contains serious political and religious themes, exploring issues such as faith and doubt, predestination, the Vietnam War, and the wider issue of American foreign policy from the 1960s to the 1980s. The book is also a mine of information about American social history, from the advent of television in the 1950s to the rock videos of the 1980s.