The Cider House Rules by John Irving
Welcome to the book that ATE APRIL. I might be exaggerating a little bit, but it felt like it lasted forever. [Goodreads has rudely informed me that it was only nine days, but still. I have a triple cannonball to get through, and this DID NOT HELP] B chose this for our May book club pick, and I was intrigued by the story, having seen trailers for the film adaptation and heard whisperings from my family circle that it was “about abortion!” I come from a medical family, by the way, which makes the pearl clutching even more hilarious. I was daunted by the length, but decided to sally forth while my courage was high.
And now, I don’t know if what I read was good or not.
I mean, I like big books (and I cannot lie), especially when they are complex, rich, and engaging.
And this book had pieces of that intertwined throughout. Irving is a terrific writer, and A Prayer for Owen Meany takes you back to a few really crucial moments in the boys’ life and branches out only to come back to these pivotal scenes. I found that meaningful. The Cider House Rules just felt long and messy at points.
This is a story about Wilbur Larch, a doctor who determines to “help women” who are “in a bad way.” In 2017-speak, he’s the illicit Planned Parenthood who can actually perform safe abortions. He sees this, plus his orphanage, as his God-given duty. Homer Wells is one of his orphans, and the story is also about Homer. Homer believes that he should not perform abortions, even though he adores Dr. Larch and is really good at it. He’s an orphan at the cross-roads, unmoored from many of the societal traditions that kids grow up in. And it’s also about Melony, one of the orphans who has a fascination with Homer, even as she knows their paths will diverge. And it’s also about Candy and Wally, who come to the clinic and take Homer with them, where their lives intersect. There are also at least two or three subplots I have not mentioned yet, but I’m already exhausted.
There’s an interesting central ethical question here, but it gets buried and revisited and buried and revisited by the tons of subplots that make up this book. It’s also a SLOW and methodical read, which is not a bad thing per se, unless you have Cannonball ambitions. Which I do. I don’t know if this book will fare better on the re-read, but for right now, I give it three stars, because I’m perplexed by its construction (not the question that Irving is seemingly interested in asking of us).