A Prayer for Owen Meany
A Prayer for Owen Meany
by John Irving
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A Prayer for Owen Meany Chapter 8 Summary

The Finger

  • The summer of 1962 is the first summer that Owen and John spend apart. John spends his summer at Sawyer Depot working for the Eastman Lumber Company, and Owen spends his summer living with Hester in Durham. (Aunt Martha totally disapproves, by the way.)
  • Simon, Noah, and John are all baffled as to whether or not Hester and Owen are actually sleeping together.
  • John gives us the scoop on what's up with his whole extended family now (that is, in 1987). Aunt Martha is still trying to figure out John's dad's identity. Hester is supposedly her parents' "only unhappiness" (8.19). We don't find out why just yet.
  • Back to the summer of '62: apparently Noah and Simon do everything they can to get John a date so he can lose his virginity card. He doesn't.
  • We come back to the present: it's July 25, 1987. John goes to visit Katherine Keeling's family on their island in Georgian Bay.
  • John likes being around Katherine's family; he finds it comforting. Being there reminds him of visiting Loveless Lake in the summer of '62.
  • Charlie Keeling, Katherine's husband, identifies John as a "nonpracticing homosexual." When Katherine asks him what that means, Charlie responds that it's pretty clear that John has never had a girlfriend – not ever. Katherine says she doesn't get why that makes John gay.
  • Every day, John volunteers to be the one to go get provisions for the family. He loves taking care of the family. He also enjoys hanging out with the Keeling kids – we get the vibe that being with them reminds him of his own childhood, because he says that he has to try not to think about Owen.
  • We go back to the summer of 1962. Dan gets in touch with John to tell him that he saw Owen standing in the gym and staring at the basketball hoop. This makes John miss Owen terribly.
  • John writes to Owen. Owen writes back and says he's convinced that they can get the shot down to under three seconds.
  • One day, Simon gets hurt while they are fishing and needs stitches. At the Emergency Room, the boys hear the news that Marilyn Monroe is dead.
  • John calls Owen and they talk about it. Owen makes an analogy between Marilyn Monroe and the United States – not quite old but not quite young, maybe just a little stupid, and possibly used by the powerful and influential members of society.
  • Owen is convinced that everyone – he, John, and America in general – will be used. Hey, isn't that what he said about Jesus back during the Christmas pageant? Hmm.
  • Owen is also pretty sure that, if the United States gets rid of the draft, people won't care about politics anymore.
  • In the fall of 1962, Owen and John begin their freshman year at the University of New Hampshire. Both boys think that Gravesend Academy was way more demanding.
  • Owen starts getting kind of lazy – school is way too easy for him.
  • The Cuban Missile Crisis takes place. Owen argues that there is going to be a war soon, but it won't have anything to do with Cuba.
  • In the summer of 1963, John goes to work for Meany Granite. Owen and John start practicing the shot again, but they're way out of practice.
  • Mr. Meany assigns John to work the front of the shop selling gravestones to customers. Owen only comes in if it is raining or if he has a special gravestone to make – otherwise he works in the quarries. John notes that Owen is especially good with the diamond wheel, a tool that he uses to cut the granite.
  • We also find out that John still doesn't get with any girls that summer. In fact, it becomes pretty clear that John never gets any action whatsoever.
  • We zoom forward to November 23, 1963. It's a pretty big day in American history. Owen and John are studying geology at 80 Front Street when Ethel tells them that Harriet wants to see them in the TV room. The President has been killed.
  • They stay glued to the TV for days, watching JFK be killed and re-killed. Owen points out that "IF SOME MANIAC MURDERS YOU, YOU'RE AN INSTANT HERO" (8.179). (Pssst…this is an important point that will come up again later.)
  • Owen seems to change after JFK is assassinated. He continues to go see Rev. Lewis Merrill for counsel.
  • John tries to broach the topic of Owen's dream with Owen. Owen sort of evades the question.
  • Then John tries to talk to Hester about it. Hester looks at him suspiciously. She tells him that, when she and Owen sleep together and he has the dream, it wakes her up and he's terrifying to watch. She tells John that he doesn't want to know about it.
  • We zoom through 1964. It's a pretty ho-hum kind of year.
  • Owen replaces the statue of Mary Magdalene at St. Michael's church with a new one.
  • Owen reveals that, after he graduates and has to go into the army, he definitely doesn't want to be in a job that requires paperwork; he wants to be where the action is.
  • Just before their junior year begins, Owen completes the shot in under three seconds.
  • Once again, we bounce back to the present: it's July 29, 1987, and John is still at Georgian Bay with the Keelings.
  • Katherine Keeling tells John that he should stop looking at any and all newspapers – they always seem to ruin his day.
  • John thinks about his obsession with the news and his constant criticism of the United States. He wonders if it's "high time" to become a Canadian through and through and to stop worrying about the USA.
  • We learn that when John first got to Canada, he was always really apologetic and would do his best to assure everyone that he wasn't just there as a draft-dodger.
  • We also find out that John first came to Canada in 1968. It was easy for him to emigrate there, based on his education and work experience.
  • We delve a little deeper into the year 1968.
  • We learn that the adjustment to Canadian life wasn't too bad for John. In fact, Canon Campbell, the rector at Grace Church on-the-Hill, was especially interested in helping Americans. John's relationship with Canon Campbell is one of the reasons why the first Canadians he got to know were of the churchgoing persuasion.
  • We go back to New Year's Eve, 1964. Hester, as usual, is barfing her brains out in the rose garden. Owen predicts that it's going to be a bad year.
  • He's right: the war in Vietnam starts escalating that year.
  • John talks to Colonel Eiger, who thinks that Owen is too small to go into combat. John tries to solidify Eiger's views on Owen's fitness to serve by bringing Owen's emotional stability into question.
  • In May of 1965, Owen leaves for Basic Training. He's in pretty good shape, except for the fact that he has been drinking a lot of beer.
  • Owen is the best of everyone in his class in Academics and Leadership, but he falls behind in Physical Fitness. He blames his low performance on the fact that he's too short to scale a 12-foot wall – he could definitely do it if he had someone like John to boost him up.
  • We come up to 1966. The war in Vietnam is pretty serious now. John has to go have his pre-induction physical to determine whether or not he's fit to serve in Vietnam. Mrs. Hoyt counsels him on how to dodge the draft.
  • John talks to Owen about the army. Owen says that he knows that he's destined to go to Vietnam: "I KNOW THAT I DO GO...IT'S NOT NECESSARILY A MATTER OF WANTING TO" (8.405).
  • He also declares that he is supposed to be a hero. He's convinced that God wants him to go to Vietnam.
  • Finally, after years of beating around the bush, Owen tells John about his dream. Basically, he saves a bunch of children from an explosion. There are nuns there. His blood is all over the place. Then he seems very far away – he looks down on them, and he sees his own body. Soon, he's high above the palm trees. It's very hot there.
  • Owen and John start planning a trip. They decide to go somewhere warm in June. Owen wants to go somewhere with palm trees (uh oh).
  • John and Owen graduate from the University of New Hampshire. Owen graduates as a Second Lieutenant and is ordered to report to Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indiana. After he goes through a course in Basic Administration, he'll be moved to a communications command in Arizona. Owen is ticked off because he wants to be where the action is.
  • One night, John walks through the Gravesend Academy campus and sees Hester. She points up to the stage that has been constructed for graduation. Owen is standing up there giving the valedictory speech that he never got to give in high school.
  • Owen and John take a drive up to Sawyer Depot without Hester. It's Owen's first time there, and he's wanted to visit since he was a kid.
  • Owen talks to Aunt Martha and Uncle Alfred about his views on the war. They are really impressed with him.
  • At the end of their stay, John and Owen get into the pickup and drive north because Owen wants to see Canada. He tells John that he's sure it's a nice country to live in.
  • Back at 80 Front Street, the Wheelwrights have a going away party for Owen. As part of their sendoff, they make Owen stand in the dark inside the secret passageway.
  • Then Hester, John, and Owen go to the attic and stand in the closet of John's grandfather's clothes. Owen tells them to form a circle and hold hands. They stand in silence for a while. Then Owen tells them not to be afraid.
  • Owen goes to Arizona, and John ends up moving in with Hester as a means of getting out of his grandmother's house and Dan's apartment – he's a big boy of 24 now, after all.
  • Time passes. In December, Owen writes to say that he has sent in some requests to Washington asking to transfer to Vietnam.
  • We find out that it's Owen's job to deliver the bodies of dead soldiers back to their families. Gross.
  • Owen comes home for Christmas. John and Owen go to the gym to practice the shot, and Owen describes the protocol for retrieving and delivering dead bodies.
  • Owen encourages John to join the Peace Movement – i.e., the "don't get drafted" movement. He tells John that he thinks it's a good strategy for getting laid.
  • Then Owen gets a little bit serious – sure, John enjoys graduate school, but grad school won't keep him out of the army forever. He tells John that he needs a strategy for staying out of Vietnam.
  • In the spring of 1967, John receives a notice from the local draft board that it's time for him to come in for his preinduction physical – looks like it's army time! John calls Owen for advice.
  • Owen tells John to skip his physical and hold tight. He's going to try to take a few days leave and will be back in Gravesend ASAP.
  • When Owen gets back to Gravesend, he invites John over to the monument shop. He tells John not to be afraid.
  • John notices an unfamiliar smell in the monument shop. Owen tells him that he boiled the diamond wheel and doused it with alcohol. Hmm…seems a little hygienic. We wonder what Owen's got up his sleeve.
  • Owen tells John that he can get out of having to go to Vietnam if he is missing a finger. Oh, OK. We see where this is going.
  • John has a beer. Then he scrubs his hands. Owen promises to have him in the hospital in five minutes.
  • Owen mentions to John that John is a figure in his recurring dream. Then he tells John that he loves him and that nothing bad is going to happen to him.
  • John hears the noise of the diamond wheel and sees his blood spatter Owen's safety goggles.
  • Looks like John doesn't have an index finger anymore. No Vietnam for John!
Next Page: Chapter 9
Previous Page: Chapter 7

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