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A Prayer for Owen Meany

A Prayer for Owen Meany

by John Irving

A Prayer for Owen Meany Chapter 9 Summary

The Shot

  • We're in 1987 again. We find out that Hester has become a rock star and goes by the name "Hester the Molester." Go figure.
  • Apparently, John's students in Toronto are all big fans of Hester's, and the fact that he's Hester's cousin makes John seem a little bit cooler to them.
  • John tells us that there are two occasions in which he has heard from Owen from beyond the grave. Here's one of them:
  • One August night, John is at 80 Front Street with Dan. They drink a lot of booze. Dan mentions that Harriet (who is now dead) never threw out any of her jams and jellies from the secret passageway. They're still there.
  • Dan tells John to go see for himself, so John does. He goes into the dark passageway and hears spiders scurrying and senses that there are lots of cobwebs around. Then Dan slams the door shut. John hears him laughing outside. That Dan. He's such a clever joker.
  • John reaches out into the darkness and puts his hand on something that feels furry and springy. He figures it's a rat (it's really one of Harriet's old wigs). He jumps a little too far back. He's about to fall down the stairs when he feels something like a small, strong hand pulling him forward from the stairs and guiding his hand to the light switch. He hears Owen's voice say, "DON'T BE AFRAID. NOTHING BAD IS GOING TO HAPPEN TO YOU!" (9.56).
  • When John comes out of the passageway, Dan screams. It turns out that all of the roots of John's hair have turned white. John's hair is now completely white.
  • We go back to the summer of 1967. Owen gets promoted to First Lieutenant.
  • We come back to 1987. Dan has been trying to get John to move back to the United States. He tells John that it's time for him to stop blaming America for what happened to Owen.
  • John tells us that there are only two people besides himself who ever knew the purpose of Owen's voice: Dan and Rev. Lewis Merrill.
  • We go back to the end of the summer of 1967. Hester tells Owen that she refuses to attend his funeral. She promises to marry him and move to Arizona if he promises not to go to Vietnam.
  • Owen's higher-ups promise him that if he does really well in Arizona for the next year and a half, they'll send him to Vietnam. He accepts.
  • We learn that "the end of the war would not come soon enough to save Owen" (9.150). John describes Owen's funeral. He's in a closed casket (which often means that the body isn't suitable for viewing – eek). His casket is draped with a U.S. flag.
  • We find out that the funeral takes place in the summer of 1968. Rev. Lewis Merrill presides over it.
  • Before the funeral, John goes to the Meanys' house. Mr. Meany tells John that the army gave them fifty thousand dollars.
  • John goes up to Owen's room and sits on his bed. He sees the severed arms of the Mary Magdalene statue strangely attached to Tabby's dressmaker's dummy.
  • John looks through Owen's room. The armadillo claws are there. So are all of Owen's baseball cards. The weird thing is, John was expecting to find the baseball that killed his mother, but it's nowhere to be found.
  • Mr. Meany comes and sits down next to John and holds his hand. Then he says, "You know, he wasn't…natural" (9.169). Um, duh…
  • Mrs. Meany calls out to Mr. Meany to stop talking. It's the first time John has heard her speak since the day of his mother's funeral.
  • Mr. Meany reveals that, "like the little Christ Child," Owen was born to a virgin. Mr. Meany insists that there was never any hanky-panky between him and his wife. She just got pregnant without ever sleeping with anyone.
  • Mrs. Meany gets really worked up and tells Mr. Meany to stop talking because nobody will ever believe him.
  • Mr. Meany gets all impassioned and tells John not to be like "those damn priests!" (9.186). OK, now we sort of get why Owen and his family were so anti-Catholic all this time. Apparently, they sought out the help from a bunch of priests and told them about Owen's birth and nobody believed them.
  • John asks Mr. Meany if he ever told Owen about his supposed virgin birth. Mr. Meany apparently told Owen about it around the same time that he killed Tabby.
  • John gets ready to go. As he says goodbye to Mrs. Meany, he thinks about how much he hates her.
  • As he leaves, Mr. Meany asks John to come to the monument shop with him. Mrs. Meany tells them to stop.
  • They go to the monument shop. Mr. Meany shows John a gravestone that says 1LT PAUL O. MEANY, JR. on it. It has Owen's correct birth and death dates on it, too.
  • John tells Mr. Meany that he's done some nice work. Then Mr. Meany comes out with some crazy news: Owen was the one who made it. He made it almost a year before he died while he was on leave in 1967.
  • Shortly thereafter, John goes to talk to Rev. Lewis Merrill about all of these crazy developments. They sit in the dark in Rev. Merrill's office. Rev. Merrill reveals that Owen used to talk to him about these things all the time.
  • Then Rev. Merrill starts stuttering like crazy, as usual. He says that Owen believed that God had picked him to do something special.
  • All of a sudden, John feels like Owen is nearby.
  • Rev. Merrill turns on the lamp. He looks crazy. He tries to speak, but he can't.
  • When Rev. Merrill finally speaks, Owen's voice comes out and says, "LOOK IN THE THIRD DRAWER, RIGHT-HAND SIDE" (9.236). Rev. Merrill yanks open the desk drawer and the baseball that killed Tabby comes flying out.
  • Then Rev. Merrill gets his voice back in time to say, "Forgive me, my s-s-s-son!" (9.238). Yup. Owen was right – John's father's identity is a little bit of a letdown.
  • Rev. Merrill confesses that he has no faith anymore – he lost his faith in God the second that Tabby died. Apparently, he was the person that she was waving to. He says that when he saw her waving at him, he silently prayed that she would drop dead – and she sure did.
  • He says that he only wished that because seeing her made him feel so guilty. He says that God must have punished him in order to show him not to take prayer so lightly.
  • We learn that Rev. Merrill's romance with Tabby was a little bit pathetic. He went to see her as "The Lady in Red" because she wanted the approval of her town pastor. He was totally wowed by how gorgeous she was, and that was that.
  • John believes that Rev. Merrill was actually sincerely in love with Tabby and was too chicken to leave his wife and kids. We guess that's kind of nice of him, even if Rev. Merrill has been a big fat liar all these years.
  • John leaves the vestry office and takes the baseball with him. He is fuming mad.
  • He goes to see Dan. He asks Dan why he insisted that John and Tabby leave the Congregational Church when Dan and Tabby got married. Dan replies that it was Tabby's idea. John is shocked – another lie from Mom.
  • Then John asks Dan why they waited so long to get married. Dan replies that John's dad was sort of blackmailing them. Tabby didn't want Rev. Merrill to reveal his identity to John, but Rev. Merrill kept threatening Tabby that he would do so if she and Dan got married. (We should point out that Dan still doesn't know that the dad in question is actually Rev. Merrill.)
  • John starts thinking of ways in which he can encourage Rev. Merrill to have a little bit of faith again.
  • John goes back to the Meanys' house and retrieves his mother's dressmaker's dummy. He also takes Mary Magdalene's arms. He reconstructs a figure resembling his mom in the flowerbeds that are visible from Rev. Merrill's office.
  • Then John takes the baseball that killed Tabby and throws it through Rev. Merrill's window.
  • Rev. Merrill comes to the window and sees a figure that looks exactly like Tabby. He covers his eyes and falls to the ground. He begs Tabby for forgiveness.
  • As Rev. Merrill continues to lie on the ground in a fetal position babbling to himself, John takes all of his props and puts them in his car. He throws everything – the arms, the dummy, and the baseball – into the harbor.
  • John reads Owen's diary. He sees a few interesting entries:
  • One entry contains command forms of Vietnamese verbs. The ones that stand out to John are the phrases for "don't be afraid" and "lie down."
  • Another entry just contains the words "THIRD DRAWER, RIGHT HAND SIDE" (9.325). Looks like Owen had known for a long while where the baseball was.
  • There's also an entry that says that John should move to Canada to make a clean break with the past.
  • We go to Owen's funeral.
  • So many people are there: Mr. Chickering, Chief Pike, Mrs. Hoyt, the Eastmans (minus Hester), and Mr. Fish, just to name a few.
  • Rev. Merrill conducts a pretty standard funeral – there are prayers and hymns. Everything seems pretty dignified.
  • Then, at the end, Rev. Merrill gets really impassioned. He begs God to give Owen back to them. Rev. Merrill tells everyone that Owen was his personal hero. He says that he had lost his faith, but Owen helped him get it back.
  • They bury Owen. The thing to notice about the whole funeral scene is the way that Rev. Merrill seems to have lost his stutter for good – all of a sudden, his faith is firm again and he's confident in his beliefs. It's amazing what a dressmaker's dummy and a baseball can do.
  • After the funeral, John runs into Mary Beth Baird, who is all grown up and has kids now. He tries to speak to her, but he's lost his voice. He thinks about how Owen's voice is the only one he wants to hear, and he knows that Owen is gone for good.
  • Not long after Owen's funeral, John moves to Canada.
  • Here's an interesting little tidbit on how Mrs. Meany dies: she catches on fire when a spark from the fireplace lands on the American flag that she has wrapped around her body.
  • John tells us that he is doomed to remember how Owen died. Let's take a look, shall we?
  • On the Fourth of July, 1968, Owen calls John late at night. He asks John to meet him in Phoenix. Apparently there's been a mix-up of bodies, and Owen has to travel there to set things straight.
  • John flies into Phoenix. As his plane lands, he notices all the palm trees everywhere. Uh oh, clues.
  • Owen's flight is late, so John hangs out around the airport. We get a really long description of the airport bathroom. We very rarely get such detailed descriptions of bathrooms in novels. Maybe that means this particular bathroom is important or something…
  • He sees a bunch of people with some army folks who are waiting for Owen's plane to land. It turns out that they're the dead soldier's family.
  • The most memorable people in the dead officer's family are his sister, who is pregnant, even though she looks barely old enough to bear children. There's also a scary-looking, gawky, tall boy who must be fourteen or fifteen. He looks like he's full of rage.
  • John describes the diary entry that Owen writes as he flies to Phoenix. Owen writes that he thought he knew how his death was going to go down, but now it's almost his death date and he's in Arizona instead of Vietnam. What the heck?
  • Owen arrives at the airport.
  • John notices that the dead officer's brother is wearing jungle fatigues, as if he's about to go to war Rambo-style.
  • We meet Major Rawls. He fills us in on the background info of the family that we're dealing with. He calls the brother – i.e., the kid in jungle fatigues – the "chief wacko" (9.507). Apparently, he hangs out all day in the airport watching the planes and waiting for the day he's old enough to go to Vietnam.
  • Major Rawls also tells John that he's pretty sure that someone in her own family got the officer's sister pregnant. Sheesh.
  • Owen, Major Rawls, and John go to the dead officer's wake. It's not really the classiest affair: men are drinking beer and watching baseball on a TV that's been brought outside.
  • We learn that the tall boy's name is Dick. Owen goes to talk to him. Dick comes out of his room wearing fatigue pants and no shirt. He's also smeared something black – maybe shoe polish – all over his face. He invites Owen, Major Rawls, and John into his room.
  • John notices that the room reeks of pot.
  • Dick has gotten really high. He shows the men his collection of stuff that his brother, Frank Jarvits, smuggled to him from Vietnam. His collection includes an array of wholesome things like bayonets, machetes, a helmet, an AK-47 assault rifle, and two grenades.
  • Dick starts mouthing off at Owen and Major Rawls. Owen tells him that, with his attitude, he'll probably go to jail instead of the army.
  • John and Owen go back to their motel. They drink a lot of beer and hang out in the swimming pool.
  • The next morning, Owen writes in his diary while John showers. He doesn't know why John is there, but he knows that he has to be there. Owen wonders if he's crazy or if this is all meant to be.
  • Owen and John start playing something that Owen calls the "memory game," which is sort of the novel equivalent of a TV sitcom clip show.
  • The next morning is July 8, 1968. It is the date that's inscribed on Owen's gravestone.
  • Major Rawls picks the boys up at their motel. They go to the airport.
  • In retrospect, John starts thinking about how Owen must have been weirded out to be in an airport in Arizona on the supposed date of his death. Where are the kids? Where is Vietnam? Maybe it's still possible for him to get out of his "fate."
  • All of a sudden, a plane lands. As the passengers get off the plane, Owen gasps – there are nuns and a bunch of Vietnamese children, just like in his dream.
  • One of the nuns comes up to Owen and asks him if he can take some of the kids to the men's room. John goes with them.
  • As they walk toward the bathroom, they pass Dick Jarvits, who is still wearing jungle fatigues.
  • They go into the bathroom that we learned so much about earlier.
  • Suddenly, John remembers the details of Owen's dream. It gives him the shivers.
  • Dick comes into the bathroom. He's carrying a grenade. Great.
  • Owen tells the children not to be afraid and to lie down. It's not what he says, but how he says it – they pay attention because their voice is shrill and childlike, just like theirs. Owen announces that he now knows why his voice never changes.
  • Owen looks at John and tells him that they only have four seconds. Hmm, wait, isn't there something else that John and Owen can do expertly in four seconds? The shot, perhaps?
  • Dick throws the grenade at John, who catches it. John passes the grenade to Owen, who is already in position for the shot. Owen runs toward John, who lifts him up as though he were about to do a slam dunk. Jeez, everything in this book is significant in some way.
  • Owen gets up to the window edge and covers the grenade with his arms. It explodes.
  • It turns out that Major Rawls, in the midst of all of this hoopla, has swiftly broken Dick's neck. Dick is now dead. Guess he'll never get to go to Vietnam.
  • All of the children are crying. John's ears are bleeding from the amazingly loud noise that the grenade made.
  • One of the nuns finds Owen in the sink. His arms have been blown off. This image doesn't remind you of armadillos or Mary Magdalene or a dressmaker's dummy, does it?
  • Owen turns to John and asks if he can see now why they had to practice the shot all the time and why John had to be there.
  • Owen tells the nun that he feels awfully cold. Then he looks straight at John and tells him that he's getting smaller. Then Owen dies – he's lost too much blood.
  • We come back to the present: John says that he's always saying prayers for Owen.
  • The novel ends with John praying in the same words that Rev. Merrill used at Owen's funeral: "O God – please give him back! I shall keep asking You" (9.589).
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