When I was 14 years old, I wandered into my local Barnes and Nobles with the summer reading list my high school had given me. There were hundreds of options on it that I could hardly make sense of. So I handed it to an employee and she quickly zeroed in on John Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany. She told me that if it wasn’t the best book I’d ever read, I could come back to the store and throw it at her.
I never threw the book at her, because it’s still my all-time favorite. If she’s out there, I’d love to thank her.
I’m not one for rereading books. There are just too many new stories to discover, but when I found myself with a few Audible credits to use, I thought, this might be a good way to revisit some old favorites. It can be hard to follow an audiobook for 20 hours or more (though I’m getting better at it), so rather than trying to follow a new story–and incessantly having to rewind–I downloaded my old pal Owen.
The Beauty of Audio
I have a minor podcast addiction, but while I was listening to Owen, there was nothing else coming out of my earbuds. I’d forgotten so much more than I remembered about this beloved book. I knew it was funny, and sad, and heartwarming. I knew that Own spoke in all caps and that his voice was a permanent scream. I knew he killed his best friend’s mother, and that there was a stuffed armadillo. I remembered a few other spoilery things, but I’d also forgotten how political the book was. If The Cider House Rules is Irving’s case against the anti-choice movement, A Prayer for Owen Meany is his anti-war opus.
With all audiobooks, the narrator is important, but this is especially true with Owen Meany–not just the book, but the actual dialog attributed to this character. See, Owen has a “ruined voice”–a voicebox fixed in a permanent scream. In the book, he’s always speaking in ALL CAPS. So you can imagine how important it is that the narrator get the voice right. Irving himself picked Joe Barrett. But Barrett does so much more than just Owen’s voice. He trots out a variety of gentle New England accents. John Wheelwright’s grandmother’s voice might be my favorite–it makes me laugh almost every time she speaks–but Mr. Meany’s accent is perfection.
While I’m always happy to evangelize for Owen Meany, I really want to encourage people to think about revisiting their old favorites in audiobook form. You may not have time to sit down with a book–especially one you’ve already read–but we’ve all got car rides and commutes on which to lose ourselves in a good bit of audio.