John Irving is a prolific author who has written some of the greatest literary works of the 20th Century. I thoroughly loved his A Prayer for Owen Meany. It was a terrific work, extremely heartwarming story, even though it was a bit long in the tooth. Recently, I was looking for a novel that I could take on my moving trip that was long and would keep me enthralled. I couldn’t put my first Irving book down, so I figured I might as well try another of his works.
I knew of The Cider House Rules from its Oscar night when Irving himself won for Best Screenplay. The novel is about an orphanage run by Dr. Larch. He establishes it in Maine after returning from WWI. He and his two nurses not only run the orphanage (boys and girls, separated), but also a secret abortion clinic. Women show to St. Clouds to deliver their baby and leave him/her at the orphanage. Alternatively, women show to undergo an abortion.
In addition to Dr. Larch and St. Clouds, the other main character was Homer Wells, an orphan who was adopted a plethora of times, but always returned to St. Clouds. Homer grew up under Dr. Larch’s tutelage as an obstetrician. He was Dr. Larch’s protege until he refused to abortions. Thus, Homer moved away with a couple, Wally and Candy, who was similar to age as him, and assisted Wally with his apple orchard. The Cider House was the building (if you could call it that) where the transient workers would stay during apple picking season. The Cider House Rules are those rules that Wally’s family posts in the house: don’t drink too much and don’t drink then climb on the roof, as some examples.
I think it’s interesting that Irving named this book after the cider house rules, since they played a large role, but I don’t think they played a HUGE role in the novel as a whole. If anything I think one of the most pivotal themes is the morality of human life and deception. Homer and Candy sleep together while Wally is fighting in WWII and is thought to be dead over Burma. Candy has the baby at St. Clouds and Homer “adopts” him as his son, calling him Angel. Candy and Homer deceived their family, except at St. Clouds, regarding Angel Homer’s adopted, but biological son. Alternatively, Dr. Larch has spent decades covering up the death of Fuzzy Stone, while he has “written” correspondence from him as a Harvard medical student who wants to be an obstetrician. These are only two HUGE lies that consume the novel. All I can read into it is: Irving was commenting about the depravity of humanity.
Overall, I really enjoyed the novel. There were only a few drawbacks that I could identify. The first is Irving’s style is fairly descriptive and tedious. What could be said in a sentence, Irving says in a paragraph. He sometimes gets on tangents that have nothing to do with the main theme of the chapter. While its annoying and tedious to read through, it is Irving’s writing style and you can’t fault him for that. The other drawback was Irving’s description of gruesome actions. For example, there’s this picture that causes Homer Wells and Melony see in an abandoned room. It’s of a girl and a horse (I will leave the rest to your imagination). Quite frankly, Irving’s description is disgusting and too much (beyond X-rated). It’s very difficult to read these things and take them in. I didn’t enjoy it, and it for sure is not appropriate for children.
I cannot recommend this book enough, but one must take care of some of its written prose.I cannot wait to watch the film, to see how comparable it is to the novel. For now, the book is excellent and well-worth your time.