First published in 1985 by William Morrow, The Cider House Rules is John Irving's sixth novel. Set in rural Maine in the first half of the twentieth century, it tells the story of Dr. Wilbur Larch—saint and obstetrician, founder and director of the orphanage in the town of St. Cloud's, ether addict and abortionist. It is also the story of Dr. Larch's favorite orphan, Homer Wells, who is never adopted.
Topics: Maine, Macabre, Abortions, Doctors, Love Triangle, Adoption, Pregnancy, Ethics, Made into a Movie, Family, Friendship, Morality, Social Class, Friends to Lovers, Childhood, Realism, 20th Century, Male Author, American Author, Contemplative, 1950s, 1920s, 1930s, 1940s, Epic, Dramatic, and Tragic
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I love Irving's calm, measured narrative voice. He made me laugh out loud several times during the book, but it didn't feel like he was trying too hard. There's just something inviting about his writing, and I love his quiet observations about human nature. Even when describing negative human qualities, it feels like there's a love for people in his writing.
A truly wonderful book.more
However, I think I have to take issue with the reviewers whose opinions were pasted on the back cover, insisting that this is "clearly" John Irving's best novel. I am inclined to disagree. What mainly troubled me was the protagonist, Homer Wells. Homer Wells is not an absolutely horrible main character; he has a personality and an interesting life, but he totally fails to jump off the page. When I think of him, the first thing that comes to mind is his favorite response, "Right." I guess John Irving is intentionally writing about someone whose whole schtick is to be as accommodating as possible to those around him, but he doesn't give Homer enough of an inner life to compensate, and what we get is someone who is basically "a receptacle for plot" (to quote, I think, my creative writing prof.) Irving can write memorable characters; there are a couple in Cider House Rules, but Homer Wells isn't one of them. It's like if Homer wrote the Iliad all about Menelaus. Sure, stuff happened to him, but he's not the one you care about.
In contrast, my favorite Irving novel, A Prayer For Owen Meany, also has a main character who is not quite as interesting as, well, Owen Meany himself, but he is still really interesting. He has nuances, he has a thought process, and he has an absolutely crucial friendship with Owen Meany. He is not Holmes, but he's Watson. While Homer is... well, Homer is Frodo. I like Frodo okay, but I am really glad that most of the Mordor bits of Lord of the Rings were narrated by Sam. Okay, I'll stop using weird literary metaphors.
Related to this are my mixed feelings about the ending. I didn't strongly dislike the ending, but it didn't move me the way the ending to such a big story should. I was mostly like, "Oh. Okay." It was clever, but I needed more than clever.
It was still a very good novel, prettily written (occasionally the omniscient narration was a little distancing, but generally it was pulled off), and worth reading just for the rich setting. But I still like both Owen Meany and the World According to Garp more. (And the Goodreads ratings agree with me!)more