Study Guide

A Prayer for Owen Meany Summary

By John Irving

A Prayer for Owen Meany Summary

Our narrator, John Wheelwright, is an American expatriate living in Toronto, Canada in 1987. He tells us the story of his friendship with Owen Meany and how it has affected his whole life. He sets the scene in Gravesend, New Hampshire, beginning in 1952. John (or Johnny, as he's called as a kid) lives with his mother and grandmother at 80 Front Street. Johnny's mom, Tabby, gave birth to him out of wedlock and refuses to tell anyone who Johnny's father is. All anyone knows is that Johnny's father is someone she met on the train to Boston, where Tabby would travel once a week for voice lessons.

Johnny spends most of his time with Owen Meany, whose family owns a granite quarry in Gravesend. We learn right away that Owen is totally different from the other kids in town – physically, he's the smallest kid around. He has ears that stick out and a voice that terrifies people who hear it for the first time. We get a sense of Owen's voice from the first time he speaks because all of his dialogue is written LIKE THIS, IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. Owen also sticks out because he kind of acts like a little old man; he's wise beyond his years and isn't afraid to tell other people about his beliefs and principles.

When Johnny is ten years old (in 1952), Tabby marries a man named Dan Needham, a sort of geeky guy whom she met on the train four years earlier. Dan is a drama teacher at Gravesend Academy. Johnny loves Dan from the second he meets him, perhaps because Dan brings him a pretty awesome gift: a real armadillo that has been preserved and stuffed. Owen and Johnny love playing with the armadillo, which we don't really get, but it's sweet anyway.

One day in 1953 when the boys are eleven, Johnny and Owen are playing in a little league game. Their team is losing pretty badly, so their coach, Mr. Chickering, has a "what the heck" moment and puts Owen up to bat in Johnny's place. Owen swings a couple of times. Meanwhile, Tabby arrives at the game and stands just outside of third base waving at someone in the stands. Owen hits a foul ball that smacks Tabby in the head. She dies immediately. That night, Owen gives Johnny his whole collection of baseball cards as a way of showing Johnny how sorry he is. Johnny knows that Owen wants the cards back, so he returns them to Owen along with the stuffed armadillo. Owen ends up returning the armadillo, except not the whole thing – he actually removes all of the armadillo's claws first. At the time, Johnny doesn't really get why Owen would do that – and neither do we – but in time we'll all figure it out.

We go back in time and get a bit of backstory on events that happened between Owen and Johnny while Tabby was still alive. One night, Owen sleeps over Johnny's house and comes down with a fever. He goes into Tabby's room to let her know he's not feeling well. He sees her dressmaker's dummy standing there in the dark, and he's convinced that it's the Angel of Death. Owen believes that Tabby was supposed to die that night, but he interrupted the Angel of Death from taking her. Later, Owen will tell Johnny that he believes the responsibility of killing Tabby was transferred to him.

The Christmas after Tabby dies is a rough time for everyone. Dan drinks a lot, and Johnny spends his time divided between his grandmother Harriet's house and Dan's apartment. Johnny and Owen start rehearsing for the Christ Church Christmas pageant. Owen steps up and basically determines who gets which part. Owen will play the part of Baby Jesus, and Johnny will play Joseph.

At the same time, Dan starts rehearsing the Gravesend Players for the annual production of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol that he's in charge of directing. Mr. Morrison, who plays the part of The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, quits the play because it's not a speaking part. Owen ends up convincing Dan to give him the part after he shows up at rehearsal and scares the you-know-what out of everyone. Just like that, Owen gets the two most important non-speaking parts in the two major Christmas plays in Gravesend.

The actual productions of the plays are really memorable. Let's start with the Christ Church pageant, in which Owen plays Baby Jesus. Owen sees his parents in the audience and starts shouting at them – he says that it's a SACRILEGE for them to be there (5.159). He shows them the door. Then Johnny carries Owen through the audience and out the front door.

The production of A Christmas Carol is no less memorable. In fact, Owen is so scary-looking that Maureen Early pees in her pants. In the middle of his big scene, Owen jumps up and starts screaming. He tells Rev. Lewis Merrill that, instead of seeing Scrooge's name and date of death on the gravestone prop, he saw his own name and the date of his death. At the time, everyone is convinced that Owen is delusional because he has a fever. Still, this moment will keep coming back to us throughout the rest of the novel.

Time passes, and Owen and Johnny start attending Gravesend Academy, a really fancy private high school in their community. Owen starts writing a column for the school newspaper, The Grave, under the pseudonym The Voice. Owen writes in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, just like he speaks. Owen becomes a well-respected figure around the school. His opinions seem to matter to everyone to the point where he gets to have a private audience with candidates who apply to be the new headmaster of Gravesend Academy. Things seem to go well for Owen until the spring of 1960, when Gravesend Academy hires Randy White as the new headmaster. The two have it out for each other almost immediately.

That summer, Owen picks up a couple of interesting hobbies. One hobby is something he calls "the shot": he and John start working on a routine in which John helps Owen slam dunk a basketball by hoisting him up in the air. They practice to the point where they can complete the shot in a matter of seconds. Owen's other big hobby is making fake IDs for his fellow students out of their draft cards.

During their senior year, a pretty pivotal thing happens: John and Owen go to Boston one day, and Owen takes John to Jerrod's, a store on Newbury Street whose logo matches the tag on one of Tabby's old dresses. Tabby had always talked about how the store had burned down, but the boys find out pretty quickly that this was never the case. It seems like Owen has been doing some homework to try to figure out Tabby's biggest secrets. The boys find out that Tabby was a singer in a supper club (that is to say, a high-class nightclub with dinner and dancing) once a week. They also meet her former voice teacher. It seems that Tabby had a secret life as an entertainer that nobody ever knew about. This newfound information blows Johnny's mind and makes him question whether he ever really knew his mom all that well.

The boys' senior year is also notable because of all of the shenanigans that Owen causes. He gets put on disciplinary probation when he jokes to Larry Lish's mother that he'd sleep with her if she were game for it. He also bets the basketball team that they can't lift Dr. Dolder's Volkswagen Beetle and put it on the stage in the Great Hall. Of course, they take the bait. Finally, Larry Lish rats Owen out for selling fake IDs and Owen is expelled with only a couple of months to go until graduation. As a final act against Mr. White, Owen steals the statue of Mary Magdalene from St. Michael's Church and welds it to the stage of the Great Hall so it stands right at the podium.

In the midst of all of these antics, Owen has regular counseling appointments with Dr. Dolder as well as Rev. Lewis Merrill. We get the vibe that Owen's relationship with Rev. Merrill is way more open and honest. One day, Dan and John walk into Dr. Merrill's office and see Owen sitting there. Owen asks Dr. Merrill to say a prayer for him at the school's morning assembly. After John and Owen leave, they overhear Rev. Merrill asking Owen if he is still having "the dream" and Owen sobs uncontrollably. Interesting.

We find out that Mr. White has really done a good job of trying to screw up Owen's college plans. Harvard and Yale won't accept him anymore unless he takes off a year to work. The University of New Hampshire yanks Owen's full scholarship out from under him. Owen decides to go to the University of New Hampshire with John. He goes to the U.S. Army recruiting offices and signs up for the Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC). The army will pay for Owen to go to college, and then Owen will owe them four years of service after he graduates.

John and Owen start at the University of New Hampshire in the fall of 1962. Owen starts getting kind of lazy, while John turns out to be a pretty good student. We sort of zoom through the boys' college years. All the while, the war in Vietnam starts to pick up; more and more troops are sent there every year. Owen goes to Basic Training in 1965. He tells John that, it's not that he wants to go to Vietnam – it's that he's supposed to go there in the grand scheme of things. After years of keeping it a secret from John, Owen finally tells John about his recurring dream. In his dream, he saves a bunch of Vietnamese children from an explosion. There are nuns there. Owen sees his blood all over the place. All of a sudden, he feels like he's far away and looks down on everyone from above the palm trees. He sees his dead body lying there. This is why Owen is convinced that he has to go to Vietnam – he thinks he's destined to be a hero.

In the spring of 1967, John gets a notice from the local draft board that it's time for him to come in for a physical exam that will determine if he's fit to be drafted into the army (back in the Vietnam War Era, military service wasn't voluntary – you could be told to report for duty if you were regarded as being mentally and physically fit). John calls Owen and tells him the news. Owen says he'll be back in Gravesend as soon as he can. One day, John meets Owen at the Meanys' monument shop. Owen uses the diamond saw to slice off John's trigger finger. No Vietnam for John!

The events of the end of the novel are presented out of order. We start with Owen's funeral in the summer of 1968. Right before the service, John goes to visit Mr. and Mrs. Meany. John finds a bunch of the random oddities that Owen has picked up over the years – the claws from John's stuffed armadillo, Owen's baseball card collection, and Tabby's dressmaker's dummy. He expects to find the baseball that killed Tabby, but it's nowhere to be found.

Mr. Meany comes in with some unexpected news: he tells John that his wife was a virgin when she gave birth to Owen. In fact, she still is a virgin. He insists that the two of them never romped in the sack together. He insists that this fact makes Owen just like Jesus. Mrs. Meany starts to totally flip out at Mr. Meany. Mr. Meany, in the meantime, tells John that he broke the news to Owen around the same time that Owen killed Tabby. John is furious and is about to leave, but Mr. Meany brings him into the monument shop. He shows John Owen's gravestone, which has the correct birth and death dates on it. Oh, and by the way, Mr. Meany didn't make it – Owen did. This means that Owen really did know the exact date of his death before it even happened.

John goes to Rev. Lewis Merrill's office to talk about the crazy things that he's found out that day. Rev. Merrill starts stuttering like crazy, a typical sign that he's feeling really anxious. John suddenly feels like Owen is nearby. Rev. Merrill opens his mouth to speak, but Owen's voice comes out instead: "LOOK IN THE THIRD DRAWER, RIGHT HAND SIDE" (9.236). Rev. Merrill pulls out the drawer and the baseball that killed Tabby comes flying out. Rev. Merrill confesses that he is John's real father.

Owen's funeral is totally packed – everyone we've met through the course of the entire novel seems to be there, except for Hester, who refuses to go. Rev. Merrill conducts a pretty straightforward funeral, full of the usual prayers and hymns. All of a sudden, Rev. Merrill regains his fervor and begs God to give Owen back to all of them. He tells the congregation that he had lost his faith (a really gutsy thing for a minister to admit), but that he got it back because of Owen Meany. Owen is his personal hero.

So then, after we find out about what things were like after Owen died, we get the scoop on exactly how it all went down. Owen is stationed on the West Coast but has to make a trip to Phoenix to deliver the body of a dead officer to his family. He asks John to meet him there so they can catch up and have a little vacation. John and Owen meet at the airport. They also meet the dead officer's family, the Jarvits family. The officer's brother is a sketchy kid named Dick who is really into wearing war gear. Later, he shows Owen and John his collection of fighting gear, including some machetes, an AK-47, and a couple of grenades. Otherwise, Owen and John spend some time having fun in Phoenix. Owen seems really focused on talking about their past together and remembering important times from their childhood.

One day, Owen and John go to the airport. All of a sudden, a plane lands. When the passengers get off the plane, we see a bunch of nuns and Vietnamese orphans among them. One of the nuns asks Owen to take the boys to the bathroom. John goes with him. While they're in the bathroom, Dick Jarvits shows up with a grenade in his hand. He pulls out the key and throws it at John. John passes it to Owen, and they basically re-enact "the shot" that they practiced in the gym for so many years. John hoists Owen up, who holds the grenade down under his arms on the high windowsill. The grenade explodes and blows Owen's arms off. He bleeds to death, but everyone else survives. As the novel draws to its close, John prays that God will return Owen to him.

  • Chapter 1

    The Foul Ball

    • The narrator begins by telling us he's "doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice" (1.1) He paints a picture of this boy – he's tiny, he had something to do with the narrator's mother's death, but most importantly, he's the reason why the narrator believes in God.
    • We learn that the narrator has lived in Canada for twenty years and has converted to Anglicanism. When he dies, he wants to be buried in New Hampshire near his mom.
    • The narrator starts talking about his childhood.
    • At Sunday school, the narrator and his classmates used to pick Owen Meany (the tiny, mom-killing, faith-giving guy) up off the ground and pass him around. Man, that Sunday school sounds like fun.
    • We learn more about Owen. His family is in the granite business, and he always seems to have granite dust all over him. His skin is the "color of a gravestone" (1.5) and so translucent that you can see his veins. The narrator reveals that Owen must have been born too soon.
    • The most astounding characteristic about Owen is his voice – the narrator tells us that there must be something wrong with his vocal chords, because "to be heard at all, Owen had to shout through his nose" (1.6).
    • Every time Mrs. Walker, the Sunday school teacher, would leave the room, the kids would start passing Owen around. Stuff would fall out of his pockets, like his beloved baseball cards. Whenever she came back, Owen would get in trouble. He would never tell on anyone else.
    • The narrator tells us that he himself was a Wheelwright, and that his family came over on the Mayflower.
    • The narrator describes his grandmother, Harriet, who is way proper and hoity-toity.
    • Then the narrator launches into a description of his hometown of Gravesend, New Hampshire. We learn the history of Gravesend. Then we learn that the narrator was named after the town's founder – they are both named John Wheelwright.
    • We learn that the original John Wheelwright acquired the land from a local sagamore (that is, a Native American chief) named Watahantowet. When Watahantowet signed the deeds, he drew his totem, which was an armless man.
    • Then John, our narrator, tells us more about his family. He talks about his mom. She kept the name Wheelwright because she had Johnny out of wedlock – we learn that he has never met his father, and he's OK with that.
    • We learn that Johnny was eleven when his mom died. She was 30. She never told him who his father was.
    • John remembers talking to Owen about his father's identity. Owen is convinced that God knows who Johnny's father is. He insists that God will reveal Johnny's father's identity to him – it's just a matter of time. (This is around the time when we first catch a glimpse of Owen's screechy speech, which is in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS. You'll get used to it quickly, so don't worry.)
    • We meet John's uncle Alfred Eastman, who is in the lumber business. Uncle Alfred is married to Aunt Martha, who is John's mother's sister.
    • The Meanys, as we've mentioned, are in the granite business. Owen knows tons about cornerstones and monuments.
    • We learn that Johnny was born at 80 Front Street, the Wheelwright family home. His mother never explained the full details of her pregnancy to anyone. All anyone knows is that she met a man on the Boston & Maine Railroad, and the rest is history.
    • We get a little more family history: back before Johnny was born, Aunt Martha went to college but Johnny's mom said that she didn't want to go. She argued that she should be home to help take care of her father, who was dying.
    • Rev. Lewis Merrill, the local pastor at the Congregational Church, told her parents that she had a beautiful voice and should get professional lessons. It would be just as good an investment as college for her.
    • Anyway, Johnny's mom started taking voice lessons in Boston. Her lessons were first thing in the morning, so she would go on the train the night before and spend the night. Apparently her teacher was a big shot and in such high demand that it was the only time she could get a lesson.
    • We learn a little more about Aunt Martha's relationship with Johnny's mom. Martha always resented her sister, because Johnny's mom was always the prettier of the two and always got the boys.
    • It goes without saying, then, that Martha really disapproved of Johnny's mom getting pregnant from a "fling." Still, Johnny's mom used the word fondly and would affectionately call Johnny "my little fling!" (1.60).
    • We also learn that Johnny's mom was the kind of lady that even the meanest person could warm up to – everyone loved her.
    • After Johnny was born, his mom continued to go to Boston every Wednesday night. He resented it. She only canceled her trip a couple of times – once when Johnny had the chicken pox, and another time when he broke his wrist.
    • We learn that Johnny's mom gets remarried when Johnny is ten, and that the man she marries legally adopts Johnny and becomes like a real father to him.
    • We learn more about 80 Front Street – it's a big, foreboding brick place that people always mistake for the Gravesend Inn. The coolest part of it is that there's a secret passageway, hidden by a bookcase that's actually a door.
    • We learn that Johnny once took Owen to the secret passageway and scared the you-know-what out of him. Owen screamed so chillingly that Grandma Wheelwright was totally terrified.
    • We meet Lydia, who is the housekeeper at 80 Front Street. We learn that Lydia eventually develops some kind of cancer and has to have her right leg amputated. Johnny's grandmother ended up hiring two more maids – one for herself, and one to look after Lydia – and Lydia never worked again, but continued to live at 80 Front Street.
    • We learn that John's grandmother eventually lost her memory, but she never forgot Owen's voice.
    • John recalls another major memory of Owen. They used to go swimming in the granite quarries (which we've never heard of doing, but apparently they're deep and full of water). They were only allowed to go in if they had a rope tied around their waists, and they were only allowed to go in one at a time.
    • Owen once untied the rope and swam underwater to the other end of the quarry and waited to see how everyone else would react. They were totally stunned and just stared at the end of the rope when they pulled it out of the water. Owen took this as a huge insult: "'YOU LET ME DROWN!' Owen said. 'YOU DIDN'T DO ANYTHING! YOU JUST WATCHED ME DROWN! I'M ALREADY DEAD!' he told us. 'REMEMBER THAT: YOU LET ME DIE" (1.98). This moment will come back later.
    • We learn that when Johnny's mother got married, they left the Congregational Church and joined the Episcopal Church.
    • Apparently, Owen changed over to the Episcopal Church at the same time – "TO ESCAPE THE CATHOLICS" who, he says, committed an "UNSPEAKABLE OUTRAGE" by insulting his parents (1.100).
    • Owen apparently wasn't huge on Catholicism because he felt like all the ceremonies and prayers and creeds kept him from talking to God directly. Owen believed that "A PERSON'S FAITH GOES AT ITS OWN PACE" (1.107).
    • We also learn that the town of Gravesend is home to Gravesend Academy, which is a swanky all-boy's school. Johnny's mom really wants Owen to go there – she's sure that he could get a full scholarship.
    • Owen totally refuses to go to Gravesend Academy – he says that the public school is meant for people like him.
    • We learn that Mrs. Meany is what people often refer to as a "shut-in" – she stays inside all day, wearing an old set of headphones to shut out the sound of the equipment from the granite quarry.
    • Mr. Meany, meanwhile, runs the household. He's pretty anti-Gravesend Academy because their crew team wanted to get the river widened to improve their racing course, a measure that would cut into his property.
    • One day, when the boys were ten, Owen tells Johnny that his mother had come to see the Meany's – he could tell because the smell of her perfume lingered in the air.
    • We also learn that Owen thinks that Johnny's mom has "THE BEST BREASTS OF ALL MOTHERS" (1.154).
    • John starts talking about the summer that he and Owen were eleven years old, which is the summer that Johnny's mother died.
    • So here we are, in the summer of 1953.
    • Johnny and Owen play little league. Owen is really incredibly bad at baseball. Their team is losing, and everyone is basically waiting to go home.
    • The coach, Mr. Chickering, tells Owen that he can bat for Johnny.
    • Johnny's mom arrives at the little league game. She walks by the stands near the left-field foul line, past third base, and looks to see if anyone she knows is there.
    • Meanwhile, Harry Hoyt walks, and Buzzy Thurston hits an out. If they get one more out, the game is over.
    • Usually, Mr. Chickering tells Owen to just stand there and not swing because it's really easy to make him walk rather than strike out. This time, Mr. Chickering feels like he has nothing to lose. Everyone is waiting for the game to end, so Mr. Chickering tells Owen to swing away.
    • Johnny's mom sees someone she knows and waves to whoever it is.
    • Meanwhile, Owen swings and actually hits the ball – the noise it makes is louder than any hit Johnny has ever heard before.
    • Johnny's mom turns around to see who was responsible for such a loud hit; as she turns, the ball hits her in the head and she falls down dead.
    • Mr. Chickering is the first person to reach her. She's lying there with her legs splayed open and her dress hiked up over her knees, so he rearranges her to look more proper. Then he throws his jacket over Johnny's head and tells Johnny that he (Johnny) doesn't want to see her.
    • Police Chief Pike searches for the baseball, because, as far as he's concerned, it's a murder weapon. It's nowhere to be found, though.
    • Owen goes up to Johnny, who still has the jacket thrown over his head, and tells him, "I'M SORRY!" (1.212).
    • When Johnny finally takes off that warm-up jacket, he realizes that Owen is nowhere to be found. He imagines Owen wobbling on his bike to go home.
    • Johnny wonders if Owen has the ball – it was the only decent hit he ever made, and it killed someone.
    • Johnny feels kind of angry with his mom for never telling him who his dad was.
    • John in the present day tells us that, in retrospect, he was only eleven and had no idea that there were other people at that game who had their own reasons for wanting that baseball…spooky.
  • Chapter 2

    The Armadillo

    • We learn that Johnny's mom's name is Tabitha, but everyone called her Tabby.
    • The only time he ever heard someone call her Tabitha was when Rev. Lewis Merrill was begging her not to leave the Congregational Church (remember, they joined the Episcopal church when Tabby got married).
    • We learn more about Johnny's family dynamics. Aunt Martha thought that Tabby (her sister) was "a little simple" (2.4). In hindsight, John thinks it's because Aunt Martha was jealous of her.
    • Even though Johnny's mom was a total hottie, we learn that she dressed pretty conservatively and only really wore black and white, though she did wear red accessories sometimes.
    • One day, Johnny worries to Owen that maybe his mom (who never flirts with other people) might turn into a flirt on the train – how else could his birth be explained? Owen shoots him down and tells him that it's a terrible thing to say.
    • We learn that Tabby met her husband on the Boston & Maine, and Johnny loved hearing the story. We find out that the guy in question is named Dan Needham, and to this day John wishes that Dan were his real father.
    • John recalls the way Dan came into his life. Let's zoom back to that day:
    • Johnny is having dinner with his mom, Lydia, and his grandmother. All of a sudden, Tabby's all like, "Hey, just met another guy on the train!"
    • Everyone expects Tabby to announce that she is pregnant, and she can tell that they think so. She clears it up and says that she just met a guy whom she really likes.
    • She also clarifies for Johnny that he shouldn't get his hopes up about this guy being his dad, since they only just met today.
    • Meanwhile, Johnny's grandmother, Harriet, is totally getting nervous. She needs to know everything about Dan, because, as John pointed out before, she's someone who cares a lot about looking good in society.
    • Harriet is less than thrilled to find out that Dan is into acting and works as a high school teacher. She's soothed, though, to hear that he went to Harvard and that his name, Dan Needham, is sufficiently WASP-y.
    • Tabby says they haven't made a date, but she knows she'll see him again.
    • With the sort of magic that usually belongs to the movies, the doorbell rings. Wonder who it could be…
    • …Why, it's Dan Needham!
    • Johnny recalls other "beaus" that his mother has brought home in the past. He refers to them as "goons." They always bring stupid gifts or talk to him like he's a baby. The one thing they all shared in common, though? They were all pretty studly in the looks department.
    • Dan Needham doesn't follow this pattern one bit. In walks this geeky-looking guy with tiny, round glasses and curly read hair. He seems like a perfect contestant for What Not to Wear.
    • Dan bypasses everyone and introduces himself to Johnny first. Dan hands him a package and tells him that it's not for him. Dan tells Johnny that he has to trust him with it for a little bit and that he should hide it somewhere where no pets can get to it.
    • While the grownups settle in the living room, Johnny stares at the package that Dan gave him.
    • Dan talks about how one of his favorite tricks with his students is to bring some sort of "prop" to capture their interest.
    • Johnny can't stand it any longer and opens the bag. The face of a strange creature stares back at him: "It looked like a weasel in a shell – like a ferret with scales" (2.79).
    • Turns out it's an armadillo – a dead, stuffed one to be specific.
    • Johnny ends up loving this armadillo, and so does Owen. They start playing this game all the time where they go up to the attic and hide the armadillo in the closet that holds Johnny's dead grandfather's clothes. It never fails to make Owen scream when he finds it.
    • John explains that, before he met Dan and the armadillo, he reserved his expectations of "unusual" things for Owen Meany and his cousins in northern New Hampshire.
    • We learn that Aunt Martha, Uncle Alfred, Hester, Simon, and Noah live up in Sawyer Depot, about two hours from Gravesend by train.
    • Johnny describes his cousins as "good-natured, rambunctious roughnecks and daredevils who genuinely wanted me to have fun" (2.101).
    • There's a lot of excitement when Johnny hangs out with his cousins. They're all older than he is, but they're all within three years of him – Noah's three years older, Simon is two years older, and Hester is less than one year older.
    • The Eastmans (that's their last name) are full of energy both outdoors and indoors. We also learn that Hester is the kind of girl who creates a lot of sexual tension, even with Johnny, who is her cousin for crying out loud.
    • The Eastman cousins create this game called "through the house," in which everyone has to run through the entire house and end up back in Hester's room. The last person to arrive has to kiss Hester, also known as "Hester the Molester."
    • Obviously, Johnny loses and has to kiss Hester. Afterwards, she teases him about his hard-on.
    • One day, Johnny and Owen are hanging out, and Owen asks if he can go up to Sawyer Depot with Johnny and his mom sometime. Johnny figures that his rambunctious cousins would probably kill Owen instantly, so Johnny tries to make some excuses.
    • Johnny ends up letting Owen take the armadillo home while he's away – you know, in case anything bad happens.
    • One Thanksgiving, the Eastmans come to 80 Front Street to spend the holiday with the Wheelwrights. Owen wants to meet them. He does his homework on them – he knows their names, ages, and sizes before he even meets them.
    • Before introducing Owen, Johnny tries to prepare his cousins for what they're going to encounter – basically, a puny guy with a funny voice.
    • The day after Thanksgiving, Owen shows up at 80 Front Street. When the Eastman kids first meet him, they're totally stunned. Owen introduces himself while the three cousins just gawk at him. They seem to lose all of their wildness – they're polite and considerate and want to do whatever Owen wants to do.
    • They decide to play a game of hiding in the dark. In this game, Hester is supposed to hide in the big closet that holds their Grandfather's clothes. One at a time, the boys have to go in and try to find Hester before she pulls their "doinks."
    • The game starts. Hester does a little bit of damage to both of her brothers, and then Owen goes in for his turn.
    • Hester doesn't grab Owen's you-know-what; instead, she tickles him. He's overwhelmed and wets his pants. Then he runs out of the room and is out the front door of the house before anyone can stop him.
    • Johnny and his mom get in the car to try to find Owen, who's sadly and unsuccessfully trying to pedal his bike up Maiden Hill. He's super-embarrassed. He's afraid of having to tell his parents about what happened.
    • Owen also starts ranting about how he doesn't care what the Eastmans do to him. He doesn't want to be treated like a piece of porcelain. He's upset because he never gets to do anything cool.
    • Tabby soothes Owen, and they end up going back to 80 Front Street. Owen takes a bath and puts on some fresh clothes.
    • Owen comes up with a new game for everyone to play: they get to take turns hiding him! Sometimes being tiny is really convenient.
    • In the present, John reflects about that day, and how his memory of Owen pathetically trying to ride his bike up the hill must be exactly the same as what Owen looked like the day that he hit the ball that killed Tabby.
    • John recalls the night after his mom's death. Here it goes:
    • Johnny spent that night at 80 Front Street. At this point, Dan and Tabby had been married for a while, and the three of them had been living in a faculty apartment in a dormitory at Gravesend Academy.
    • Johnny hears a noise in the driveway and gets up to see what it is. It's Mr. Meany's truck. Owen gets out of the passenger side and takes out a few large cartons from the back. He doesn't ring the bell; he just leaves the cartons at the back door.
    • Johnny discovers that the cartons contain Owen's greatest treasure: his baseball card collection. Johnny isn't sure if this means that Owen's done with baseball for good, or if it means that he's supposed to do something with the cards – like burn them, for instance.
    • Dan suggests that Owen probably wants the cards back at some point. He also tells Johnny that he has to give Owen something to show him that he loves him, because that's what Owen was showing Johnny.
    • Johnny decides to give his armadillo to Owen. Owen keeps the armadillo for two weeks and then returns it.
    • When Owen gives back the armadillo, Johnny notices that Owen has removed its claws. Weird, right?
    • Dan checks out the claw-less armadillo and decides that Owen is really original and smart.
    • We come back to the present, which is 1987. John lives in Toronto now. He tries not to read American newspapers or magazines. He feels like America isn't far away enough for him.
    • John is really critical of Ronald Reagan (Reagan was the U.S. President in 1987).
    • John thinks back on another period in U.S. history of which he feels particularly critical: the Vietnam era (in the 1960s).
    • We learn that John never fought in Vietnam, though hundreds of thousands of young American men did.
    • We also learn that it was because of Owen Meany that John stayed out of Vietnam – but we'll find out more about that later.
  • Chapter 3

    The Angel

    • We're back in John's childhood – so here's Johnny.
    • Tabby has a good eye for fashion, and she's an even better seamstress. When she goes to Boston, she takes clothes from fancy stores home with her, sews her own copies of them, and then returns the originals.
    • We learn that she has a dressmaker's dummy in her room that is an exact replica of her figure. Even Dan insists that it can make someone look twice. Tabby always has clothes on it; Johnny assumes she does this out of either decency or playfulness.
    • Owen and Johnny make a game out of dressing up the dummy. Tabby loves how Owen can make up interesting new outfits by combining her old clothes in ways she hadn't thought of before.
    • Like we said back in Chapter 2, Tabby only really wears black and white. She has this one red dress, though. She never wears it. She found it in a store in Boston and copied it in both white and black because she liked the cut so much.
    • When she tried to return the red dress, she couldn't. She tells Johnny that the store burned to the ground. She finally got in touch with a lawyer, who said that everything was destroyed in the fire – all of the inventory, bills of sale, and receipts. Even the phone and cash register melted!
    • Tabby never wears the red dress because it makes her visibly uncomfortable. The only time she ever wears it is when she acts in one of Dan's plays, and she fidgets practically the whole time.
    • John (as the grown-up narrator) makes a point to illustrate that, when they were kids, Owen was really familiar with the dummy because they played with it so often. Still, John mentions, Owen never saw the dummy at night.
    • One night (way before the baseball incident), Owen sleeps over at 80 Front Street in the other twin bed in Johnny's room.
    • Owen complains that he feels sick. Actually, he says, "IT FEELS LIKE A RARE DISEASE" (3.38). This strikes us as being hilarious for some reason.
    • Johnny tells Owen to go tell Tabby about it. Owen leaves and then comes back and shakes Johnny. He tells Johnny that there's someone strange in Tabby's room and he thinks it's an angel.
    • They go to investigate and wake Tabby up in the process. Johnny announces that Owen has a fever. Tabby lets Owen crawl into bed with her. She falls asleep immediately. Owen says he's going to stay with Tabby in case the angel comes back.
    • John (as the narrator) tells us that, years later, Owen would tell him that he thought he had disrupted the "SCHEME OF THINGS" by interrupting an angel at work (3.66). Specifically, Owen believed that he had interrupted the Angel of Death, who then reassigned the task of killing Tabby to Owen.
    • In a moment of comedy, Johnny's grandmother walks into the room while Owen is in Tabby's bed. Owen screams a terrible scream in his awful, screechy voice. Harriet screams, too.
    • Owen later tells Johnny that his grandmother was "WAILING LIKE A BANSHEE" (3.87).
    • We learn that Tabby dated Dan Needham for four years before she married him. It struck everyone as being kind of weird, because they were so obviously in love from the get-go and they got engaged after just a couple of months together.
    • John (as the narrator) mulls over the question of why Tabby and Dan waited four years to get married. Tabby always just insisted that they were waiting to be sure.
    • We learn that Dan never had a problem with Tabby's singing lessons in Boston, which always struck John as being odd, because he always figured the singing teacher was his dad.
    • We also learn a little bit more about Dan: he comes from a very high-powered family. They sort of looked down on Dan for becoming a prep-school teacher, because they figured he could have done something more prestigious. They also didn't approve of Tabby.
    • Dan's family also looked down on Johnny for being born out of wedlock, so Dan stopped having anything to do with them.
    • John (as the grown-up narrator) talks about how he and Tabby left the Congregational church for the Episcopal Church after Tabby and Dan got married. He compares and contrasts the two ministers.
    • Rev. Lewis Merrill is someone that we've met before – he's the Congregationalist minister. Johnny likes him.
    • Then there's Rev. Dudley Wiggin over at the Episcopal Church. John refers to him as "a bumpkin of boredom" (3.122).
    • In terms of ability to preach, Rev. Merrill is the clear winner – people love his sermons. Still, he preaches a lot about doubt. In retrospect, though, John points out that the only people he ever knew who didn't seem to have religious doubts were Rev. Wiggin and Owen.
    • Then we learn a little bit about the ministers' wives. Mrs. Merrill is from California, and the cold weather in New Hampshire hasn't been that kind to her. She looks completely haggard, and she's always getting sick. The Merrill kids aren't that much to write home about, either. According to John, they're totally forgettable. Maybe that's why we never learn their names?
    • Then we have Rev. Wiggin's family. His wife, Barbara, was once a stewardess. She goes by "Barb." Owen totally despises her.
    • We find out that there's a middle ground between the two of them: Hurd's Church, the interdenominational church at Gravesend Academy. We learn that Tabby had both her wedding and her funeral there.
    • Let's zoom into the July day in 1952 when Dan and Tabby tie the knot, shall we?
    • Both Rev. Merrill and Rev. Wiggin officiate Tabby and Dan's wedding. John describes the event as a kind of showdown between the two ministers.
    • Then there's a reception at 80 Front Street. It's a really hot day. Everyone is sort of sweating and gross.
    • A lot of people we know are at the wedding, including Owen and his dad, Mr. Meany; Hester, Noah, and Simon are there, too.
    • Harriet Wheelwright is ruling the roost as usual. She won't let anyone use the bathrooms upstairs. Hester really has to pee. The boys brag to her that they can pee in the bushes because they're boys.
    • Hester decides to pee in the bushes, too. She takes of her panties and hands them to Owen.
    • Mr. Meany leaves the party without Owen, who insists on staying.
    • Owen presents Dan and Tabby with a gift that he made himself: it's a piece of granite that he polished, smoothed, and inscribed with the date of July 1952. We find out that Dan will use this stone as a doorstop for years and will always smash his toes on it.
    • Owen becomes really playful with Hester about her panties. He keeps threatening to bring them out at inopportune times. Hester spends the remainder of the party stalking Owen, which makes Johnny jealous.
    • Tabby and Dan get ready to leave for their honeymoon. Meanwhile, it starts raining. Then it starts hailing like crazy.
    • Johnny kisses Tabby and Dan goodbye. Meanwhile, Tabby offers Owen a ride home because it's too gross out for him to ride his bike home. Owen is really pleased because it means he gets to go on the first leg of the honeymoon.
    • Tabby gets out of the car to let Owen scootch into the middle seat. A hailstone hits her between the eyes. She cries, "ow!" and Owen responds with "I'M SORRY!" – hmm, when has he said that before? Oh, right – following another event that we know about in which Tabby gets hit in the head…
    • Johnny picks up a hailstone and marvels at how it is as hard as a baseball. Hmm.
    • This image provides John with the perfect segue to talk about his mom's death. Specifically, we find ourselves at her funeral.
    • Mr. Chickering, the baseball coach, was particularly moved during the funeral. He was weeping away. John talks about how some of his teammates were there, like Henry Hoyt, who could have been the last out but walked instead, helping Owen to get up to bat.
    • We learn that Harry Hoyt will die in Vietnam. He will be bitten by a poisonous snake while he waits his turn at a whorehouse. In response to her son's death, Mrs. Hoyt will start counseling boys on how to evade the draft. We'll see more of her later.
    • Buzzy Thurston, the other kid we remember from the baseball game, doesn't go to Tabby's funeral. This irks John.
    • We learn that Buzzy will go on to a state university. He will try to evade the draft by poisoning himself, which he accomplishes by drinking copious amounts of booze, smoking tons of pot, and doing LSD and peyote.
    • Luckily for Buzzy, this effort will pay off and keep him out of Vietnam; unfortunately, he'll find himself hooked on all these substances and will die by driving head-on into the abutment of the bridge on Maiden Hill Road.
    • Back to the funeral.
    • Chief Pike sits by the door eyeing everyone – he's still on the hunt for whoever stole the "murder weapon" – the baseball, that is.
    • The service goes on. They sing a hymn that Owen finds particularly inspirational, "Crown Him with Many Crowns." This hymn will pop up again later.
    • Everyone goes to the cemetery. As Rev. Merrill prays over the casket, Johnny notices that Mrs. Merrill is holding her ears. Then Hester follows suit. Then Simon, Noah, Aunt Martha, Uncle Alfred, and Lydia all hold their ears. Johnny notices that his grandmother does not hold her ears.
    • Then Johnny realizes why they are all holding their ears: it's because the cemetery is near a baseball field, and they can hear the crack of the bat over and over. Oof. Bad timing for this funeral.
    • At the end of the funeral, Johnny notices Owen, who refuses to take his hands off of his ears. Johnny hears Owen say, "I'M SORRY!" twice.
    • Johnny goes back to 80 Front Street. Aunt Martha takes him up to his room and tells him that he can come to stay with the Eastmans whenever he wants to.
    • She leaves, and Johnny's grandmother comes in. She tells him that he can have his old room back if he wants to come live at 80 Front Street again.
    • Then she leaves and Dan takes his turn. We find out that Dan has already legally adopted Johnny, and that he'll get to go to Gravesend Academy when he hits high school age. Dan tells Johnny that he would like him to continue living with him in his faculty apartment but will let Johnny figure out what arrangement is best for him.
    • Johnny stays at 80 Front Street for the night, while Dan goes back to the dorm apartment.
    • Hester takes Johnny for a walk. She reminds him that Owen feels even worse than Johnny does. Johnny is a little jealous that Hester has been thinking about Owen.
    • Hester and Johnny walk to the cemetery. There's a familiar truck there – Owen is at the cemetery with his dad. Mr. Meany tells Johnny that Owen still had a few things that he wanted to say to Tabby.
    • Mr. Meany also informs Johnny that he will follow Tabby's wishes and won't interfere if Owen wants to go to Gravesend Academy.
    • Johnny and Hester approach Owen, who is at Tabby's grave reading from The Book of Common Prayer. Johnny calls out to Owen.
    • Owen flips out: "I HEAR YOU!" he shouted angrily. "WHAT DO YOU WANT? WHAT ARE YOU DOING? WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME?" (3.288). Hester gasps because "it had suddenly occurred to her – Whom Owen thought he was speaking to" (3.289).
    • Owen asks about how Dan is doing. Owen insists that they need to go get the dressmaker's dummy from Dan's apartment, because otherwise Dan might just stare at it and pine away for Tabby.
    • When they get to Dan's apartment, it's clear that Dan has been drinking.
    • Owen picks up the dummy and marches out with it. They get back in the car.
    • Hester comments that it's such a nice night that she'd love to drive down to the beach and back. Owen commands his dad to drive them to the beach.
    • Hester, Johnny, and Owen walk in the surf.
    • Then Mr. Meany drops Hester and Johnny off at 80 Front Street. Owen keeps the dummy.
    • We come back to the present – it's February 1, 1987. John talks about how he believes in angels now, even though he didn't before.
    • We learn that John is stewing about the fact that he not only didn't win his church's Vestry elections – he wasn't even nominated.
    • We become acquainted with two major figures in John's current religious life, Canon Campbell and Canon Mackie. Canon Mackie is the new rector at John's church. Canon Campbell was the old rector who recently passed away.
    • John sort of watches Canon Mackie's service with a critical eye. He admits, though, that the Thirty-seventh Psalm really resonates with him. He suggests that we'll see this particular psalm pop up again soon.
  • Chapter 4

    The Little Lord Jesus

    • John plunks us in the middle of the holiday season in 1953. Johnny is eleven, and it's the first Christmas following his mother's death. Harriet decides that they should spend Christmas away from the Eastmans. That way, if they all miss each other, they won't spend the whole time missing Tabby.
    • Johnny spends his time divided between 80 Front Street and Dan's apartment at Gravesend Academy.
    • Dan spends a lot of time drinking. Harriet refuses to decorate her house for Christmas.
    • Owen and Johnny have a little bit of mischievous fun: they take Dan's master key and break into the dorm rooms of the Gravesend students who have gone home for the holidays.
    • Every year, Dan directs a production of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. We also learn about the Christmas Pageant that the Christ Church puts on every year.
    • Owen hates the Christmas pageant because Rev. and Mrs. Wiggin always make Owen play the part of the announcing angel.
    • Johnny has never been to the Christ Church Christmas pageant before because he's usually in Sawyer Depot. Now he might actually get to be in it.
    • He learns quickly that Owen has a lot to say about what's wrong with the pageant: nobody can tell what the turtledoves are; Mary stands around and looks pretty; Joseph is always smirking; and, worst of all, they use real babies to play the Little Lord Jesus. The babies are always crying, so Mrs. Wiggin keeps a whole line of adults holding babies offstage so they can swap in non-crying babies for crying ones.
    • John directs us back to Waterhouse Hall (the dorm that holds Dan's faculty apartment). Most of the faculty and students are away for the holidays. Only the Brinker-Smiths, a young British couple, are still there. The Brinker-Smiths just had twins. Mrs. Brinker-Smith, who goes by Ginger, is apparently a major hottie.
    • Otherwise, Owen and Johnny spend a lot of time going through the dorm rooms of the absent Gravesend Academy students. Owen has this thing about trying to figure out the personalities of the inhabitants based on their possessions and the states of their rooms.
    • Johnny and Owen also discover a lot of dirty magazines hidden under various mattresses. Owen believes that the boys with the biggest interests in sex are probably also the unhappiest.
    • In the room of a young man named Potter, the boys discover a stash of unused condoms – or, as Owen calls them, "BEETLESKINS" (4.57). They unwrap a condom and take turns trying to put it on themselves, which, yeah, is kind of gross.
    • John starts describing the Christmas Pageant of 1953 to us.
    • To Barb Wiggin's dismay, Owen flatly refuses to play the part of the Announcing Angel – he's tired of people laughing at his voice. Then the fun begins: he starts giving a bunch of suggestions as to how the pageant should take shape.
    • First off, Owen declares that John should play the part of Joseph. Then he suggests that Mary Beth Baird, "a wholesome lump of a girl, shy and clumsy and plain" (4.95) should play the part of Mary.
    • John draws our attention to "fat Harold Crosby, who was not grotesque enough to be teased – or even noticed – but who as enough of a slob to be rejected whenever he caused the slightest attention to be drawn to himself" (4.105).
    • Harold falls over his chair, which Rev. Wiggin takes as an indication of Harold's interest in the role of the Announcing Angel. We find out that Harold is afraid of heights, which doesn't exactly bode well for a role that involves being hoisted up in the air.
    • Next, Owen nixes the turtledoves and asks that they be replaced with cows. Mary Beth Baird volunteers to make cow costumes.
    • Then, as the cherry on top, Owen convinces everyone that he should get to play the part of the Christ Child – after all, he's tiny enough to fit in the crib and won't cry like all the other babies.
    • Owen continues to exercise his opinions during all of the rehearsals, progressively driving Barb Wiggin crazy.
    • John brings us back to the present in 1987. He talks about how he goes to church pretty frequently. He goes during the week because he hates seeing cranky families who are there against their will on Sundays.
    • Then John takes us back to Christmas, 1953.
    • This time, we learn more about Dan's production of A Christmas Carol.
    • Mr. Fish, the neighbor, stops by 80 Front Street whenever he sees Dan's car out front. He has a lot to say about the quality (or lack, thereof) of the actors in the play. Mr. Early plays Jacob Marley and completely overacts the part. The Ghost of Christmas Past is pretty bad, too. The Ghost of Christmas Present, played by Mr. Kenmore, is even worse.
    • Yet, the very worst actor is Mr. Morrison, the mailman, who plays the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. He threatens to quit because he doesn't get any lines – it's a completely silent part.
    • Mr. Fish plays the part of Scrooge. John reveals a little bit more about Mr. Fish.
    • John can remember a time when Mr. Fish seemed to be young and carefree. He used to play football in the yard with Owen and Johnny, even though they didn't really like the game. Mr. Fish's dog, whose name was Sagamore, always played along.
    • Down the street, a young couple had a new baby. They always yelled at the neighbors to stop making noise.
    • One day, Owen punted the football into the street. Sagamore, the dog, chased after it and got hit by a diaper truck – the truck crashed directly into Sagamore's head. He died instantly. Owen told Mr. Fish, "I DON'T THINK YOU WANT TO SEE IT" (4.264). Hmm, remind you of any other instances of deadly head injuries in this novel?
    • Tabby helped the boys take care of Sagamore's remains. Owen and Johnny buried Sagamore; Mr. Fish insisted that he'd never have another dog.
    • John remembers how cold his mom looked. They had a funeral ceremony for Sagamore complete with candles and prayers. Rev. and Mrs. Merrill were drawn to the scene. John remembers how startled his mom looked when they showed up.
    • John mentions that he was only "dimly aware of Owen as the conductor of an orchestra of events – and totally unaware that this orchestration would lead to a single sound" (4.282). Keep this image in mind for later.
    • John describes the way he remembers the Meanys' house. They didn't ever have a lot of Christmas decorations, but they did have a crèche with a series of painted wooden figures. There were cows; there was a figure of the Virgin Mary; there was a Joseph; there were angels and animals. The only thing missing was "the Little Lord Jesus himself" (4.285).
    • We learn more about Mr. and Mrs. Meany. Mrs. Meany never really says anything. She just sits and stares out the window.
    • One day in the winter of 1953, Johnny goes over to Owen's house. Mr. Meany asks how the pageant rehearsals are going. Johnny mentions that Owen is playing the part of the Baby Jesus. Both Mr. and Mrs. Meany are really startled. It gives Johnny the shivers to look at their reactions.
    • Johnny gets the vibe that he said something he shouldn't have said.
    • Owen and Johnny leave Owen's house, but Johnny realizes that he forgot his hat. When he goes back to get it, Mrs. Meany speaks to him for the first time ever, saying, "I'm sorry about your poor mother" (4.321).
    • We meet Ethel, the maid who replaces Lydia after her amputation. Harriet and Lydia make it kind of hard for Ethel to acclimate – Lydia and Harriet seem to be best buds, and they always talk about their fond memories, like how they used to throw out old jars of jam together. They do so mostly as a passive-aggressive tactic to ask Ethel to do things (like throw out old jam) without actually asking her.
    • Then we meet Germaine. She's the other maid that Harriet hired when Lydia had to stop working. Her specific job is to look after Lydia. Germaine is kind of clumsy and awkward. Harriet and Lydia make things kind of hard for her.
    • Germaine seems to be afraid of everyone, but she is especially creeped out by Owen.
    • One day at dinner, Johnny mentions to his grandmother that, despite the suggestions of others, Owen decided not to go see Tabby's voice and singing teacher because he thought that God gave him his voice for a reason. More than anything, Harriet is interested in finding out the identity of this teacher because she thinks it might give them a clue about Johnny's father's identity.
    • It's still Christmastime in 1953. One day, Owen Meany and John go back to Gravesend Academy and hang out in Waterhouse Hall while Dan rehearses the Gravesend Players.
    • As the boys examine a room on the second floor, they hear the Brinker-Smiths approaching. Johnny hides in the closet, while Owen hides under the bed.
    • The Brinker-Smiths end up doing it right above Owen. They go at it so vigorously that a bedspring scrapes Owen's nose.
    • Owen and Johnny are totally shocked about what happened. They decide to go hang out at 80 Front Street where things are a little bit tamer.
    • When they get there, Mr. Morrison comes to the door as part of his mail route and tells Harriet that he's quitting the play – he doesn't want a silly non-speaking role!
    • Owen overhears the exchange and tells Mr. Morrison what an important part it is – the Ghost of the Future is the scariest ghost of all!
    • In spite of Owen's best efforts, Mr. Morrison quits the play. Owen calls Dan. Johnny realizes what Owen is up to – he's angling to get the role for himself! In the process of trying to convince Mr. Morrison not to quit, Owen must have convinced himself that it was a prime part.
    • Owen goes to rehearsal one day. Later, Dan recounts how Owen was so scary and convincing that it made the hair on the back of his neck stands up.
  • Chapter 5

    The Ghost of the Future

    • Just like that, Owen captures the two major non-speaking parts in the two community Christmas plays: he's going to be the Little Lord Jesus as well as the Ghost of the Future. (This seems to be some kind of clue for his role in the rest of the novel – stay on the lookout.)
    • Owen gets amazing reviews in the local paper for his performance in A Christmas Carol. Still, Dan's kind of troubled – small children burst into tears at the sight of Owen, and it makes it hard to drive home the point of the play's happy ending.
    • The play runs for a couple of weeks. Owen ends up coming down with a cold. Dan thinks it might be a good thing, because Owen's version of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come is so scary that it might be worth it for him to tone it down a little bit.
    • Mr. Fish ends up being kind of jealous because Owen's portrayal of the Ghost upstages his portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge.
    • Johnny starts to think that Owen is getting a little full of himself; he also thinks that Owen treats his parents a little too harshly. Then again, Johnny feels a little jealous that Owen has the luxury of having both of his parents around.
    • Dan tries to get Owen to invite his parents to the Christmas Eve performance. Owen makes a lot of excuses as to why it's a bad idea to invite them.
    • One night at curtain call, Owen goes out on stage alone. He flips back his hood, and some girl in the audience faints when she sees him.
    • There's a major snowstorm. Owen muffles himself up in a scarf that Tabby had once given him – he regards it as his LUCKY scarf.
    • It's the day of the Christ Church pageant. On the way, Owen and Johnny run into Mr. Fish. Mr. Fish has never been to a Christmas pageant before. Still, he insists that he wouldn't miss this opportunity for the world.
    • Owen, who is still sick, insists that he's not going to be at his best today.
    • We find out that Mr. Fish wasn't raised with any particular religion, so he doesn't really know how much of Christ's story gets covered in a Christmas pageant.
    • Dan catches up with them, and the four of them head over to Christ Church. They see the Wiggins and the Merrills.
    • Mrs. Merrill looks freezing, and Mr. Merrill is tongue-tied as usual.
    • Barb tells Owen to come with her, because she needs to wrap him in swaddling clothes. When she gets him suited up, he complains that it's way too tight. Owen insists on wearing the scarf from Tabby for luck. Barb counters him by saying that Baby Jesus didn't need luck. Owen retorts that Jesus wasn't lucky – he was used.
    • Meanwhile, the other kids are milling around in costume, including the really ugly cows whose costumes were created by Mary Beth Baird.
    • Barb lifts Owen up and puts him in the crèche (a.k.a., Jesus' crib). She pinches his cheeks because she insists that the Baby Jesus should have rosy cheeks. Then, out of nowhere, she kisses Owen on the mouth.
    • Owen is so embarrassed and upset that he turns red; tears come to his eyes.
    • Oh, and he also gets an erection, which is especially humiliating considering that it was inspired by Barb Wiggin.
    • The show begins. Harold Crosby starts his shtick as the Announcing Angel, but he forgets his lines. He just keeps repeating, "be not afraid!"
    • Owen, who played Harold's part for years and years, whispers Harold's lines to him. Still, we know that Owen's voice isn't really the whispering type – so everyone hears it. Owen leads Harold through all of his lines.
    • Meanwhile, Mary Beth Baird is so overcome with emotion that she flops facedown in the crèche on top of Owen.
    • Now for a little comic relief: the lights onstage, particularly the angel's "pillar of light," are so hot that it makes some of the donkeys faint. Owen doesn't look so good, either. The kids in animal costumes start falling all over the place.
    • Owen tries to get Mary Beth Baird off him by pinching her butt.
    • Then, while he's scanning the crowd, Johnny notices some familiar faces. He sees Mr. Fish and Dan. Then he sees the Meanys – even though Owen had insisted that they not attend. They look shocked but awestruck.
    • All of a sudden, Owen notices them too. He sits up and points at his parents, shouting, "WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU'RE DOING HERE?" (5.156).
    • Everyone in the audience seems taken aback; they seem to think that he's accusing each of them individually.
    • Owen continues on his tirade: "YOU SHOULDN'T BE HERE!" (5.158). Mrs. Meany covers her hands. Owen insists that, "IT'S A SACRILEGE FOR YOU TO BE HERE!" (5.159).
    • Owen's father sounds super-apologetic and insists that they only wanted to see him. Owen points to the door. OK, that's not awkward.
    • Owen tells Johnny to get him out of there. Johnny picks him up and walks him down the center aisle through the audience. All of the other characters in the play follow them. (In case you aren't too familiar with Christmas pageants, let's just say we can safely assume they don't usually turn out like this one.) Barb Wiggin keeps the spotlight on them the whole way.
    • Owen's parents are waiting for him in their truck. He's still wrapped up so he can't move his legs. Johnny puts Owen in the car, and Owen commands his parents to take him home.
    • We come back to the present. It's February 4, 1987.
    • John goes to Wednesday morning communion service.
    • We meet some of the members of grown-up John's church. There's Rev. Mr. Foster, who gives communion during the week; then there's Rev. Mr. Larkin. There's also Rev. Mrs. Keeling, also known as Katherine Keeling. She is the headmistress at Bishop Strachan School, where John is an English teacher.
    • John thinks that Katherine Keeling is a great person to talk to. We learn that he really needed someone to talk to today, but Katherine wasn't there because she's on maternity leave.
    • John figures that Canon Mackie will have to do as a substitute listener. He asks Canon Mackie if he's read the news today.
    • John starts complaining about the actions of the U.S. government – they are testing nuclear weapons. He finds the actions of the U.S. to be arrogant.
    • Canon Mackie responds by talking to John about John. He tells John that his opinions can be a little bit too strong and kind of disturbing. He insists that having opinions as strong as John's is a very American thing to do (don't forget, we're in Canada now).
    • John's like, hold up – I've been a Canadian for twenty years!
    • Canon Mackie insists that John talks about America way too much. More than that, he's more anti-American than any other person Canon Mackie has ever met.
    • John tries to explain specifically what it is that's bothering him. He starts talking about the Missile Treaty of 1972 and insists that the U.S. is blatantly breaking some rules. Canon Mackie responds by telling John that he has quite the head for history.
    • John starts talking to us about his frustration with Canon Mackie. He realizes that Canon Mackie thinks he's stuck in the past. John has to admit it: he might live in the past more now than he used to.
    • He thinks about how, when Canon Campbell was in charge, he used to live more in the present.
    • We also learn that John (in the present) told the whole Parish Council that Christmas is depressing. What a Debbie Downer.
    • John lets us know that the Christmas of 1953 put the "finishing touches on Christmas" for him (5.210).
    • We go back to the day of the pageant in 1953.
    • Owen and his family have just driven away; everyone's standing around like, "OK, now what?"
    • Rev. Merrill goes up to Johnny and asks him if Owen is always "so…like that" (5.220). Johnny replies that Owen is always unpredictable and in charge. Rev. Merrill sort of smiles to himself.
    • Meanwhile, Mr. Fish, who has never seen a Christmas pageant before, gushes about how brilliant Owen's performance was. Dan explains that it was "not quite what the…author…intended" (5.221).
    • Mary Beth Baird is freaking out because she's convinced that what happened was all her fault.
    • Barb Wiggin overtakes Johnny. She's fuming mad. She tells him to tell Owen that he can't come back to the church without seeing her first.
    • Johnny is so upset that he tells Dan everything – including how Barb gave Owen an erection.
    • Meanwhile, Mr. Fish pops up and tells them that the angel is still "on-high" (5.228). (Isn't that totally brilliant?) Turns out that everyone completely forgot about Harold Crosby, and he's still hanging in the rafters. Harold is so afraid of heights that he's barfed all over himself.
    • Dan has just about had it – he lays down the law for Barb. He carries puke-covered Harold (who also really smells bad at this point) over to her and scolds her for her negligence. Then he tells her that it's not up to her to make rules for Owen Meany.
    • Johnny thinks about what he wishes he were doing on Christmas Eve – he wishes that he were in Sawyer Depot with his mom, waiting for Dan to arrive.
    • Instead, they have a cast party for the actors in A Christmas Carol at Dan's apartment.
    • Dan tries to get Harriet to go to the party, but she refuses.
    • We get to see the Christmas Eve production of A Christmas Carol. Johnny goes there with his grandmother. After he gets her situated in her seat, he goes backstage to see Owen.
    • Owen never explains why he behaved towards his parents the way he did. Johnny thinks it's kind of weird – all this time, Owen has been making a huge deal about how his parents were persecuted by the Catholic Church, and here he is, persecuting them, too.
    • It's a full audience. Johnny scans the audience and sees the Merrills, their unremarkable children, Mr. Chickering, Mr. Morrison, and others.
    • As he looks out, Johnny imagines that his birth father was there in the bleachers the day that his mom died. All of a sudden, he starts scanning the audience at the play – maybe his birth father is there, too.
    • One by one, Johnny starts to remember who was sitting in the bleachers on the day that Tabby died. He sees Mrs. Kenmore and her son, Donny, who are there to see Mr. Kenmore play the Ghost of Christmas Present. He remembers that they were at the game that day.
    • He sees Maureen Early sitting in the audience, and remembers that she was also at the baseball game, sitting in the top row next to Caroline O'Day.
    • Johnny feels awesome – he's starting to piece the puzzle together one person at a time. He figures if he can remember who was sitting in the bleachers that day, he can figure out whom his mom was waving to.
    • Johnny is so caught up in his attempt to re-construct the bleachers at the baseball game that he doesn't turn to watch the play until Owen enters the scene. A hush comes over the entire audience.
    • Owen is so scary-looking that Maureen Early pees in her pants. Awesome.
    • In the play, Owen, as the Ghost of the Future, takes Scrooge over to his grave. Owen bends over the gravestone (a mere stage-prop, or so we thought) and faints.
    • Just as suddenly as he fainted, Owen jumps up and screams. He runs offstage, and they find him sobbing in the dressing room.
    • Rev. Merrill runs in. Owen tells him that he saw his name on the grave. Dan hugs Owen and tells him that he has a fever and that it was just a story.
    • Rev. Merrill tells Owen that he'll take him home. He also tells him that he had a vision.
    • Johnny goes with them. When they get to Owen's house, he's startled to see that Owen's parents didn't even wait up for him on Christmas Eve.
    • Then Rev. Merrill takes Johnny home to 80 Front Street. Johnny gets out of the car, and Rev. Merrill is already gone when Johnny realizes that he meant to go to Dan's apartment for the cast party instead.
    • The house is dark and still. Then, suddenly, Johnny hears Germaine. She's hidden herself in the secret passage way and she's praying to Jesus to help her.
    • Johnny is terrified; he figures that there was a break-in and that Germaine is in the secret passageway hiding from thieves.
    • Turns out he's wrong. When he opens the passage door, Germaine tells him that Lydia is dead. She died while Germaine was reading to her. According to Germaine, "not nice things" happened to Lydia's body (5.347).
    • Apparently, Lydia's mouth would not stay shut after she died. Germaine had to try to tie it closed. She also scotch-taped her eyes closed.
    • Dan arrives with Harriet, whom he has driven home. He takes charge of the situation.
    • Harriet is convinced that Owen had foreseen Lydia's death. Dan says that's B.S. – he had a fever of 104 degrees, for crying out loud!
    • That night, Germaine sleeps in the other twin bed in Johnny's room. Johnny thinks of all the sleepovers he's had with Owen and wishes that Owen were there with him now.
    • All of a sudden, Johnny realizes that he feels the same way around Germaine that he feels around Hester. He is shocked to find himself scheming ways of taking advantage of her (don't forget, he's only eleven – sure, it's sketchy, but not as sketchy as it could be).
    • Johnny reaches out in between the beds, and he and Germaine hold hands. It's enough to give him an erection. This makes Johnny feel really troubled.
    • After Germaine falls asleep, Johnny goes downstairs and calls Owen. He tells Johnny that he's on the right track about discovering his dad's identity. He's also really supportive about Johnny's erection – after all, Barb Wiggin inspired the same reaction in him (yuck).
    • They talk about what Owen saw on the grave. Owen says that it was his real name. It turns out that Owen's full first name is Paul O. Meany, Junior. He saw the whole thing spelled out in front of him on the grave.
    • Johnny asks him if there was a date on the grave. Owen hesitates and then says no.
    • When they hang up, Johnny wants to cry because he knows that this is the first time that Owen has ever lied to him.
  • Chapter 6

    The Voice

    • We learn that Harriet Wheelwright is a very principled Yankee woman who believes in hard work. She despises TV because she hates the way it takes no effort to watch it.
    • That said, after Tabby and Lydia both die, Harriet gets a television. In retrospect, John thinks this is a pretty reasonable move – Ethel can't be the same kind of company for Harriet that Lydia was.
    • Germaine resigns; she's too freaked out about what happened to Lydia.
    • Since Lydia is dead, Harriet doesn't really need to find a replacement for Germaine. Still, since Johnny spends half his time at Dan's place, she only has Ethel to hang out with. Thus, she springs for a TV. (Is it just us, or is this totally sad?)
    • Owen is totally surprised when he finds out that Harriet is getting a TV. Hester is really jealous.
    • Owen and Johnny haven't ever really watched TV before, so they're not really prepared for what they see.
    • Harriet and Owen share a favorite TV personality: Liberace, a totally over-the-top and flamboyant pianist. He was Elton John before Elton John even existed.
    • We learn that their shared love of Liberace creates a kind of bond between Harriet and Owen that never existed before – all of a sudden they can talk to each other frankly.
    • One subject that comes up between the two of them is Gravesend Academy. Harriet has decided that Owen is completely brilliant, and she insists that he has to go. Owen is so smart that he'll definitely get in, and he'll probably get a full scholarship, to boot.
    • Owen's only objection is that he can't afford the fancy clothes that one needs to wear at such a hoity-toity place as Gravesend Academy.
    • Harriet decides to take Owen shopping.
    • Owen gets into Gravesend Academy. Johnny, on the other hand, isn't the best student. The admissions committee tells Dan that Johnny can come to the Academy if he first does a year of 9th Grade at the public school – and then he can start at Gravesend, albeit by doing 9th grade again.
    • Owen tells everyone that he's going to stick by Johnny's side. He argues that he's so small that it would be a good idea to let him grow for a year and then start at the Academy afterward. Everyone is touched by how loyal Owen is to Johnny.
    • Grab some tissues, because here's one of the most heartwarming moments in the novel: "DON'T GIVE IT ANOTHER THOUGHT," he said. "WE'RE PALS, AREN'T WE? WHAT ARE FRIENDS FOR? I'LL NEVER LEAVE YOU" (6.64).
    • We move forward in time to Thanksgiving, 1954.
    • Johnny's cousins come to 80 Front Street and see the TV for the first time. They sit around and watch movies. Hester criticizes everything.
    • The Eastmans decide to spend Christmas of 1954 in the Caribbean. Owen is disappointed because he figures he'll never get to go to Sawyer Depot.
    • We learn that Owen doesn't just have contempt for Catholics as people; he's also super-critical about the way they worship objects.
    • One of Owen's biggest pet peeves is the statue of Mary Magdalene that stands outside of the playground of St. Michael's parochial school. The statue stands in an archway and kind of looks like a goalie in a soccer game.
    • We also learn that nuns really freak Owen out.
    • Owen and Johnny spend a lot of time standing backstage during productions by the Gravesend Players. They don't watch the performances – instead, they watch the audience to try to piece together the group of people sitting in the bleachers during the baseball game.
    • Owen gives Johnny some pretty sound advice: he shouldn't expect his birth father to be anyone that great, because, if he were, Tabby probably would have introduced the two of them to one another. He certainly shouldn't expect another Dan.
    • We move forward in time some more. It's now Christmastime of 1957. Just for a point of reference, Owen and Johnny are now fifteen years old.
    • We learn that the Eastmans feel the need to spend Christmas at home this year after what happened last year – apparently Hester had an affair with a boatman who wanted to rendezvous with her in the British Virgin Islands (and yes, Hester was only fifteen when this happened).
    • We come back to the present – it is now April 12, 1987.
    • It's Palm Sunday. John goes to the Sunday boarder's lunch at the school where he teaches. Katherine Keeling is there. We learn that these Sunday lunches are important to John.
    • A week goes by; it's Easter Sunday. At church, they hear the story of Mary Magdalene finding that the stone had been rolled away from Jesus' tomb.
    • We go back to the past – this time, we're in the summer of 1958.
    • Owen has just gotten his driver's license. He drives his dad's tomato-red pickup. It will always be described as the tomato-red pickup.
    • Dan teaches Johnny to drive. He constantly quotes lines from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar that talk about bravery in the face of death.
    • Owen and Johnny spend the summer going down to the beach.
    • Owen's appearance has changed a bit: he's still tiny, but he has developed muscles from hauling granite at his dad's quarry. He also has the slightest fuzzy moustache that looks like a smear of granite dust.
    • In the Fall of 1958, Owen and Johnny start attending Gravesend Academy. Owen wears fancy clothes that Harriet bought him at the Small Gentleman's departments of fancy department stores.
    • Within Owen's first semester at Gravesend Academy, he earns the nickname of "Sarcasm Master." He starts writing for the school's paper, which is called The Grave. He writes a column under the pen name "The Voice."
    • Interestingly, Owen writes just like he speaks – in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS.
    • As The Voice, Owen champions his fellow students' causes. He challenges a bunch of rules and traditions at The Academy, from having to wear uniforms to the expulsion of a student for killing cats.
    • During their freshman year, Owen invites Hester to the Senior Dance. She agrees. After the dance, they go back to 80 Front Street.
    • Owen says that they watched a movie, but when Johnny asks him which movie they watched, he can't remember. Simon announces that they must have hooked up.
    • Owen writes a column complaining about how two students got in trouble for hooking up with their dates.
    • Pretty soon, Owen becomes a pretty important figure on campus. In fact, several applicants for the position of headmaster even ask to meet Owen. They all agree that talking to him is a daunting experience. One applicant even withdraws his application.
    • The current headmaster, who was going to retire, decides to hold on for another year. His name is Archibald Thorndike.
    • Summer comes. Johnny gets a job giving tours for the admissions office. Owen works at the quarry, as per usual. They cruise the beach just like the previous summer.
    • That next fall of 1959, Simon and Noah both go off to college on the West Coast. The Eastmans send Hester to the University of New Hampshire, just twenty minutes away from Gravesend Academy.
    • We get the gist that Owen and Hester are an item.
    • When school starts again, Owen already has a stack of columns written for The Grave.
    • In one article, he advocates for the Search Committee to hire a new headmaster who puts the students and faculty first and fundraising second.
    • He also writes an article denouncing the way that the school serves fish on Fridays to appease the Catholics – he thinks they should offer other options that please everyone. Pretty soon, there are peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner.
    • We learn that Owen loves basketball. He can't play on the team because he's too small, but we find out that he has an amazing leap – even though he's so tiny, Owen can reach the other players' eye-level.
    • Pretty soon, Owen becomes obsessed with the possibility of slam-dunking – or, as they call it, "stuffing."
    • Owen devises a special move to help him dunk that is probably illegal in actual organized games. He runs toward another player while dribbling, and then times his leap to coincide with his teammate's readiness to lift him up into the air. Only one person is willing to practice this shot with him – wonder who that might be?
    • After Owen and Johnny perfect the move, the school's basketball coach jokes with him that he just might use Owen in a game. Owen insists that his skill is "NOT FOR A GAME" (6.267). Hmm…does Owen know something that we don't know?
    • Over Christmas vacation of 1959, Johnny and Owen spend hours practicing the shot. Owen also helps Johnny with a few term papers but makes sure to make mistakes so it seems like Johnny actually wrote it.
    • We learn that Johnny is not great at spelling or reading. He's in remedial classes and has to go see the school psychiatrist to help him with the problem.
    • Owen writes an article in The Grave about how he believes some people have actual learning disabilities (it seems that he thinks that John is dyslexic – remember, this is 1959, so things that we take for granted to be true now weren't the same way then).
    • We meet Johnny's psychiatrist, Dr. Dolder. Dr. Dolder is convinced that Johnny struggles with school because Owen murdered his mother. He tries to get Johnny to say that he hates Dan and his grandmother.
    • Dr. Dolder also wants to meet Owen and talk to him.
    • We come back to the present – it's May 11, 1987. John gets an American newspaper and starts reading about Ronald Reagan's policies. He starts thinking about how Americans are all moralists and that they'd be more likely to punish a president for having an affair than for committing some kind of political atrocity. (It seems Irving was onto something…)
    • John tells to his twelfth grade English class to reread the first part of Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. The students are more concerned about whether or not they can have class outside.
    • We go back into the past. It's the winter term of the boys' tenth-grade year. Their Religion and Scripture teacher dies when he slips and falls and cracks his head on the steps of Hurd's Church. Rev. Lewis Merrill is hired as a temporary replacement.
    • As usual, Rev. Merrill preaches about how doubt is an important part of faith rather than faith's opposite. He also tells the students that if you need to witness a miracle to have faith, then you don't really have faith.
    • Rev. Merrill gives them a bunch of classic works of literature to wrap their minds around.
    • Owen starts to side with Rev. Merrill, and he writes an article in The Grave about how Merrill is way better than their old teacher ever was. The school hires Rev. Merrill as the school minister.
    • We go back to 1987 again – it's May 12th. John gets in a discussion with Mrs. Brocklebank, one of his neighbors, about how starfish can regenerate after they lose an arm. We learn that Archibald Thorndike (a.k.a. "Old Thorny") spent two years studying them and wrote a book about starfish after retiring from Gravesend Academy.
    • John asks Mrs. Brocklebank to remind her daughter Heather, a student of John's, to reread the first phase of Tess of the d'Urbervilles.
    • Then John remembers when he had to read Tess of the d'Urbervilles for school. It was the winter term of 1960. He and Owen were in the tenth grade. Mr. Early was their English teacher.
    • John was extremely frustrated about the fact that he couldn't understand Tess of the d'Urbervilles. Owen tries to get him to adjust his attitude. Owen offers to tell him the whole story and then to do his homework for him.
    • Then Owen has a change of heart – maybe it's a better idea to teach John how to do his homework. After all, Owen argues, "WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO AFTER I'M GONE?" (6.349).
    • John's all like, what does that mean? (We smell some foreshadowing here!)
    • Owen makes John realize that it's not Tess that's boring to him – reading bores John because he probably has a learning disability.
    • We snap back into 1987. John is in the midst of remembering the lessons that Owen taught him and realizes that he's crying. Mrs. Brocklebank asks him if he has allergies, and he responds that it must be from the dandelions.
    • The dandelions remind John of the spring term of 1960, which marked the beginning of a tumultuous decade – "the decade that would defeat us" (6.370). Let's go visit the spring of 1960, shall we?
    • In the spring of 1960, Randolph White is appointed the new headmaster of Gravesend Academy. He comes from a small private school in Lake Forest, Illinois. He is well-versed in the world of the rich and exclusive. In fact, rumor has it that Mr. White is a little too exclusive: the boys hear that there were "no Jews allowed" at his school (6.373).
    • Owen is automatically suspicious of Randolph White, because of all of the potential candidates for the position of headmaster, White is the only one who refused to meet with Owen during the interview process.
    • White insists that he'll talk to Owen after he gets the job. He tells Owen that he's a decision-maker.
    • As The Voice, Owen writes an article called "WHITEWASH," in which he predicts that the faculty will select White and in which Owen thinks it's a mistake and calls the teachers "INDECISIVE" and "WISHY-WASHY." He also asks the administration to check in on Mr. White's track record of discrimination. (6.384). Of course, Mr. Early kills the column and it's not published.
    • We come back to 1987 – it's May 13th now.
    • John buys an American newspaper again and reads about the sales of U.S. arms to Iran. He notes that he was good and didn't bring the paper to school.
    • John thinks about how the actions of the U.S.A. are borderline criminal.
    • We learn that some of John's students have complained to their parents about the rants that John goes on against the U.S. Katherine Keeling, the headmistress and John's BFF, has advised him to keep his politics out of the classroom.
    • During John's Grade 13 class, the girls start to talk smack about Reagan. They think he's a liar. It seems like they're trying to get John to take the bait so he starts talking smack about America instead of teaching them.
    • They go back to discussing The Great Gatsby. Their discussion includes a really interesting moment in which John pipes up about the narrator, Nick Carraway – it seems a little like he sees a parallel between himself and Nick.
    • John mentions that his colleagues enjoy getting him riled up just as much as his students do.
    • We go back to the past. We learn that Owen came up with strategies to help John overcome his dyslexia, including reading through a small rectangle cut out of a piece of paper and writing by typing on a typewriter instead of writing longhand. He also makes John read the poems of Robert Frost to him out loud.
    • It's the summer of 1960, and Owen and John are eighteen. Turning eighteen means that the boys have to register for the draft (yup, military service wasn't all voluntary in those days).
    • On Sundays, Owen and John spend their time practicing "the shot" in the basketball court, which they have to themselves. Sometimes the old janitor stands around and watches them.
    • They practice the shot to the point where they go from completing it in eight seconds, to doing it in five, to doing it in four.
    • Owen starts using the school's photocopier to make fake IDs out of his classmates' draft cards. He charges them 21 dollars apiece. They use the fake IDs to drink themselves silly.
    • Owen continues to criticize Randy White, the new Headmaster, in The Grave.
    • The headmaster isn't too wowed by the house that the school provides for him, so Rev. Lewis Merrill and his family end up moving into it instead.
    • Mr. White makes a lot of other changes to how the school is run. For instance, he decides that Hurd's Church is too gloomy, so they start having daily assembly in the school's theater. He also decides to cancel the school's Latin requirement without consulting the faculty as a whole.
    • Owen starts using his articles as The Voice in The Grave as a platform for criticizing Mr. White. Meanwhile, Mr. White starts using the daily assemblies as a way to shoot down Owen's opinions.
    • When Mr. White single-handedly decides to dismiss the school's attorney, Owen writes a piece talking about how the school is turning into an oligarchy (FYI, an "oligarchy" is a society ruled by a small handful of powerful people).
    • We also find out that it is a pretty big moment in the American political world. Richard Nixon (a Republican) is running against John F. Kennedy (a Democrat) for the presidency. Owen supports JFK. This news surprises John – he never expected Owen to support a Catholic candidate.
    • The school has a mock Presidential election. Kennedy wins in a landslide. Owen writes a piece about it for The Grave in which he talks about how Kennedy represents the interests of young Americans.
    • This article rubs Mr. White the wrong way. He is a Republican and considers the school's mock election to have been a mere beauty contest. He speaks out against Owen's article and insists that Nixon will probably win the real election.
    • Owen writes another article in response to Mr. White's opinions. The article prompts Mr. White to take over Mr. Early's position as the advisor to The Grave. Dan and John warn Owen that he needs to be careful.
    • One evening after Christmas, Owen and John drive by St. Michael's church, where the statue of Mary Magdalene is still standing in the archway looking like a goalie.
    • John notices that Owen has begun to carry his diary around with him constantly.
    • The night that John most clearly remembers Owen writing in his diary was the night of Kennedy's inauguration. (Kennedy's inaugural speech, by the way, is one of the most famous speeches in American history.)
    • Kennedy totally inspires Owen. He writes in his diary that he won't be sarcastic or negative any more. He pledges to figure out some way to serve his country.
    • In fact, for the longest time after Kennedy's inauguration, Owen continues reciting the most famous line of Kennedy's speech: "ASK NOT WHAT YOUR COUNTRY CAN DO FOR YOU—ASK WHAT YOU CAN DO FOR YOUR COUNTRY" (6.483).
  • Chapter 7

    The Dream

    • Owen and John are nineteen-year-old seniors at Gravesend Academy. Eight years after the fact, he verbally tells John what he suggested when he symbolically mutilated John's stuffed armadillo: "GOD HAS TAKEN YOUR MOTHER…MY HANDS WERE THE INSTRUMENT. GOD HAS TAKEN MY HANDS. I AM GOD'S INSTRUMENT" (7.2).
    • It's Christmas vacation, 1961. Owen and John are in the midst of applying to college. Owen has applied to Harvard and Yale. He's also been offered a full scholarship to the University of New Hampshire, even though he didn't even apply there.
    • Owen tries to persuade John to try to get into a better college than the University of New Hampshire. John thinks it's unfair of Owen to expect him to go through the whole process of applying to Harvard and Yale only to be rejected.
    • Owen infuriates John by announcing that he figures he'll end up at the University of New Hampshire, too: "'I DON'T SEE HOW I CAN LET YOU FEND FOR YOURSELF,' he said" (7.13).
    • Owen keeps coming up with excuses why he should go to UNH instead of Harvard or Yale – he should look after his parents; he should be near Hester, too.
    • John is getting pretty fed up with Owen. They practice the shot again with the clock set for four seconds. Owen completes the shot with a second left to spare. Owen is like, "see what a little faith can do?"
    • John tells Owen that with practice they can start landing the shot in three seconds; Owen insists that they can do it with faith, not practice. Owen is really big on faith, in case you couldn't already tell.
    • We learn that this year is the first time in their lives in which Owen and Johnny have really started to become cranky with one another.
    • As seniors, Owen and John have the privilege of traveling to Boston on Wednesdays or Fridays if they feel like it.
    • Most Gravesend seniors go to Boston to go boozing with their fake IDs (made by our pal Owen). That's not really Owen's idea of a good time. He disapproves of drinking because he doesn't like it when people lose control.
    • One night, they go to a bar called Old Freddy's and watch an old-ish stripper do her thing onstage. Owen is completely disgusted and insists that he and Johnny find a "NICE PART OF TOWN" to hang out in (7.42).
    • They end up on Newbury Street, an upscale street in Boston. John's all like, what the heck are we doing here? Owen tells him that he's really unobservant.
    • They approach a store called Jerrod's. Owen takes a dress label out of his pocket bearing the same name and logo. The label was taken out of Tabby's red dress. John is like, hold up, I thought my mom said this store burned down! Something is up here, that's for sure.
    • They go inside the store to ask if there was ever a fire there.
    • In fact, that question comes right out of Owen's mouth the second they walk in. They also ask if they're speaking to Jerrold.
    • The owner asks his dad, the real Jerrold (actually, his name is Giovanni Giordano) to come talk to John and Owen.
    • Turns out that there was never any fire. Whoops.
    • John shows Mr. Giordano the label and describes the dress.
    • Owen just so happens to have brought a picture of Tabby with him. That Owen, he's always prepared!
    • Mr. Giordano takes one look and exclaims, "Frank Sinatra!" – turns out he remembers her as "The Lady in Red" and that she used to sing in a nearby club. Johnny is totally astounded, but Owen just smiles as though he's known this news all along.
    • Mr. Giordano explains that the place where Tabby used to sing was perfectly respectable – it was a "supper club" in which people would have dinner and then dance. Tabby used to sing there on Wednesday nights, which explains why she always had to spend the night in Boston.
    • We find out that Tabby never sang under her own name – she was always "The Lady in Red."
    • It turns out that Owen also has the name and address of Tabby's singing and voice teacher handy.
    • They go to see Mr. McSwiney, Tabby's former voice teacher. They have to wait for him to finish up a lesson that's in progress. While they wait, John remembers how easily Tabby had told the lie about her dress. Owen points out that John has to figure out his mom's real identity just as much as he has to figure out his father's identity.
    • They meet Mr. McSwiney, who is amazed by Owen's voice (the boys are there under the pretense of needing to get Owen's voice a little bit normalized).
    • Mr. McSwiney has Owen do some vocal exercises and determines that Owen's larynx is stuck in place. He might need surgery. Owen says he doesn't want to change his voice because God gave him his voice for a reason.
    • Owen admits that the reason they came to visit is because Mr. McSwiney knew Tabby. He gives Mr. McSwiney the photo.
    • Mr. McSwiney recognizes Tabby as "The Lady in Red" and tells the boys a few things he remembers about her. He mentions that Tabby deliberately bought the red dress because she wanted to be totally out of character once a week.
    • He also tells the boys that a man named Meyerson was the one who came up with the name "The Lady in Red." Meyerson owned the club where Tabby sang – it was called The Orange Grove.
    • Mr. McSwiney asks John if he's looking for his father. When John replies that he is, McSwiney tells him not to bother – if his dad wanted to find him, he would have already. Owen insists that God will tell John who his father is.
    • We reach New Year's Eve, 1961. We learn that there are 3,205 military personnel in Vietnam. Hester, Owen, and John celebrate at 80 Front Street. Hester gets trashed and spends the evening barfing in Harriet's rose garden.
    • John falls asleep early, but Owen stays up all night. He seems to be content to face the future, although John wonders if Owen is still thinking about the date of his death.
    • On New Year's Eve of 1962, there are 11,300 soldiers in Vietnam. Owen, Hester, and John spend New Year's Eve together once more, and Hester yaks up her booze in the rose garden yet again.
    • John and Owen don't have the guts to tell Dan about their investigations in Boston. They aren't sure if Dan already knows about Tabby's past or not.
    • Owen suggests one possible strategy of bringing it up with Dan: he could write a play for Dan to put on with the Gravesend Players, and the plot can be all about Tabby and The Orange Grove.
    • We go back to New Year's Eve, 1961. During the day, the boys hang out at Hester's apartment. Hester is already drunk. Owen remarks that they have a generation of angry people to look forward to.
    • We come back to the present – it's June 9, 1987. John picks up an American newspaper and fumes a little more about the Reagans. He makes the point that Americans get bored with hearing the news about certain atrocities before it's even old news.
    • We zoom through the next handful of New Year's Eves in a matter of sentences. Every year, they celebrate at 80 Front Street. Without fail, Hester pukes up her drinks in the rose garden. Also, John never fails to mention the precise number of military personnel in Vietnam – and that number just keeps growing and growing.
    • In 1966 and 1967, John spends New Year's Eve alone at 80 Front Street, but drinks enough so he pukes in Hester's absence. We learn that Owen is in a warmer climate. Hmmm.
    • John doesn't remember New Year's Eve of 1968, but he does know that there were 536,100 U.S. military personnel in Vietnam at that point.
    • John reflects on Owen's diary entry for New Year's 1962. He writes that he knows three things: he knows that his voice doesn't change (but he doesn't know why), he knows when he's going to die (but he doesn't know how), and he knows that he's God's instrument.
    • We go back to January of 1962, when John and Owen were seniors at Gravesend Academy. Owen is now the editor-in-chief of The Grave.
    • We meet a "totally unlikeable senior" named Larry Lish.
    • Larry Lish tells John and Owen that, according to his mom, JFK is "diddling Marilyn Monroe – and countless others" (7.278). That is to say, Owen's beloved President has a reputation for sleeping around and cheating on his wife.
    • Owen is totally astounded. The news makes him downright mad. He tells Larry Lish that he's disgusting.
    • Still, the news isn't completely unbelievable. Owen is disenchanted with Kennedy, because he wonders what other horrible things he can feel justified in doing if he feels OK about cheating on his wife.
    • We meet Larry's mom, Mitzy Lish. She's kind of hot, as far as moms go. According to John, Mrs. Lish is even sexier than Hester.
    • Mrs. Lish tells John and Owen that the President doesn't just fool around with Marilyn Monroe – he fools around with lots of women. Owen gets high and mighty about how it's wrong. Mrs. Lish and Larry make fun of Owen for being so naïve – in fact, they can't contain their laughter.
    • Mrs. Lish asks Owen if he would sleep with Marilyn Monroe if he had the chance to. Owen says he wouldn't if he were married. Mrs. Lish and Larry keep on laughing – that is, until Owen jokes that he'd give Mrs. Lish a try in the sack if she were up for it.
    • Well, the news goes straight to Randy White, the headmaster, who already has it out for Owen.
    • Owen and John are summoned to the headmaster's office. Mr. White chews Owen out for propositioning Mrs. Lish.
    • Owen tells Mr. White that Mrs. Lish deserved a joke at her own expense – but he won't say why because he actually thinks he's protecting the President by not saying anything.
    • Apparently, Mrs. Lish has also told Mr. White the lie that Owen made anti-Semitic remarks to her.
    • As punishment, Owen is put on disciplinary probation for the rest of the term. He isn't allowed to go to Boston anymore. Also, out of his own volition, Owen stops writing his column as The Voice.
    • The school also makes Owen start seeing the psychiatrist, Dr. Dolder, twice a week. In addition, he starts seeing Pastor Merrill twice a week. Apparently, Owen and Pastor Merrill talk a lot about life after death, a topic that Owen especially seems to love.
    • One day in February, Owen bets a bunch of guys from the basketball team that they can't lift up Dr. Dolder's Volkswagen Beetle. Of course, they take on the challenge. Owen gets them to carry it upstairs to the Great Hall and put it on the stage. He tells them to make it look like it just flew up there, or like an angel drove it up there.
    • Later, one of the janitors discovers the car on stage. Dan is convinced that Owen is responsible, but he doesn't say anything.
    • Mr. White is likewise convinced that Owen is the one to blame. The teachers try to get the car off the stage but end up smashing it in the process.
    • Hilarity ensues, and Mr. White ends up in the infirmary after hurting his back. He remains convinced that Owen is responsible for what happened.
    • When John asks Owen about the incident, Owen replies that faith and prayer seem to work remarkably well.
    • During one of their meetings, Pastor Merrill asks Owen if he had anything to do with the Volkswagen incident. He assures Owen that their meetings are purely confidential.
    • Owen replies that it was his idea but that he didn't actually do it – it was the basketball team.
    • The winter term ends, and so does Owen's disciplinary probation. It seems like he's totally in the clear – until Larry Lish rats on him for providing the school with fake IDs.
    • Owen ends up getting thrown out of school for good. Bummer.
    • Owen disappears for a while. Dan calls the headmaster and threatens to quit if Mr. White doesn't leave the school.
    • Owen calls Harriet and tells her that he's sorry for letting her down. He promises to make her proud of him.
    • Dan and John drive around looking for Owen. When they pass St. Michael's school, they find that the statue of Mary Magdalene has been sawed clean off her pedestal.
    • They go back to the Academy and run into The Great Hall. The janitor is sitting on the front bench, staring at the stage and looking completely dumbfounded. The statue of Mary Magdalene is on the stage. Owen has removed her arms.
    • Oh, yeah, and he also sawed off her head.
    • Dan and John go to the dining hall and tell each of the students to go to morning meeting a little bit early. Then they head over to Rev. Merrill's office so they can talk to him about how to deal with the situation.
    • When they get there, Owen is sitting in Mr. Merrill's chair at his desk. He is totally restless and opens and closes each of the desk drawers over and over again.
    • Rev. Merrill shows up. Owen asks him to say a prayer for him in front of everyone at morning meeting (hmmm…does this remind anyone of the title?). Mr. Merrill starts stuttering like crazy – a sure sign that he's feeling anxious, if we've learned anything about him by this point.
    • Dan and John leave, but as they walk past the door, they hear Pastor Merrill ask Owen if he's had "the dream" again. Owen says yes and starts sobbing. Dan and John are dumbfounded.
    • We learn that Mr. White has caused some trouble for Owen with each of the colleges to which he was accepted. He loses his scholarship at the University of New Hampshire, and Harvard and Yale both want him to take a year off.
    • Owen ends up going to the U.S. Army recruiting offices. He signs up for the ROTC (Reserve Officers Training Corps), and they pay for him to go to the University of New Hampshire. When he gets out of college, though, he'll owe the U.S. Army four years of service.
    • Anyway. Rev. Merrill gets up to speak at morning meeting. He is shocked to see the armless statue of Mary Magdalene. Oh, and did we mention, she's actually standing at the podium?
    • Randy White does the "headmasterly" thing in this situation and tries to lift up the statue. Nice try – Owen has actually bolted and welded the statue straight to the stage.
    • In spite of Mr. White's confusion, Rev. Merrill leads the boys in the hymn. Then he begins his prayer: "Let us pray for Owen Meany" (7.692).
    • Mr. White is like, "aw, hell no!" Mr. Merrill stutters like crazy but tells Mr. White that he (that is, Mr. Merrill) will finish talking when he says so.
    • Mr. White knows he's lost this battle and gets off the stage.
    • John (in the present) thinks about how if he knew then what he knows now, he would have prayed a lot harder for Owen.
    • We also learn from Owen's diary that he knows that he will die as a first lieutenant, and he also knows that he will die a hero.
  • Chapter 8

    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!
  • Chapter 9

    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).