I've always struggled with Irving and Cider House Rules is no exception. It's not that Irving is a poor writer, no one can argue that. His characters...moreI've always struggled with Irving and Cider House Rules is no exception. It's not that Irving is a poor writer, no one can argue that. His characters are always fully-fleshed and alive on the page and each sentence drips with so much detail that you think you're going to get splinters when Homer and Melony are messing around in the abandoned millworker's dorm. I just think that most of the time when I put the book down I feel like I've read the equivalent of cotton candy: really pretty but not much substance as far as plot is concerned.
Another aspect of Irving's writing is his tendency to deliver sentences in blanket pronunciations (i.e.- "An orphan is a child, forever; an orphan detests change; an orphan hates to move; an orphan loves routine"). Far too often they seem like shallow blanket judgments used to convey a character trait but which instead seem to make Irving's characters seem like cardboard cutouts.
What Cider House Rules does provide is a very even-handed look at the pro-choice vs. "pro-life" debate. Told from the point of view of Dr. Wilbur Larch, who came into his own while working in Boston's South End, abortion seems like a necessary option to those who would seek one from any potential provider, no matter how unqualified or injurious. In Larch's view it's far better that women get an abortion from a trained and caring provider than a backroom butcher with no compassion for the patient.
Contrasting this view is the book's hero, Homer Wells, an orphan who has never experienced the results of a botched abortion and, from his perspective as an orphan, tends to view aborted fetuses as playmates that just never were. Through Homer and Larch's conflict regarding abortion, Irving manages to shine an insightful light on a subject which has pulled hard at America's edges for as long as the nation has been extant.
All in all, I think I enjoyed Cider House Rules. Sure, there were definitely moments when I wondered whether Irving was as lost in the story as Dr. Larch was lost in an ether dream, but the moment I closed the book for the final time it took hold of my imagination and left me thinking for quite a while after. By any measure that should be a sign of a good read.
Finally, I feel the need to mention the following quote which grabbed me early in the novel: "Dr. Larch pointed out that Melony had taken Jane Eyre with her; he accepted this as a hopeful sign- wherever Melony went, she would not be without guidance, she would not be without love, without faith; she had a good book with her. If only she'll keep reading it, and reading it, Larch thought."(less)
I was sitting at my cube farm today, moving numbers from one spreadsheet to another, cursing the internet tracking that keeps me from daytime Goodread...moreI was sitting at my cube farm today, moving numbers from one spreadsheet to another, cursing the internet tracking that keeps me from daytime Goodreading and daydreaming of pixies and unicorns when I received an email from my wife that utterly rocked my world. ":( Salinger's dead," read the short missive, and with that my world grew a little more gray. Normally news of celebrity death does little but placate my immense Schadenfreude, but Salinger's death is a serious blow to me and I feel compelled to emote all over my computer screen (don't worry, I have tissues).
Who remembers the moment when they first fell passionately in love with reading? I'm not talking about when you realized that reading was enjoyable, or a good distraction from your family, or a great way to spend a sunny day in the park. I'm talking about when you realized that this was it: life could throw anything at you and, as long as you had reading, you could cope and move on. That rather than simply entertaining, your world could be expanded and fleshed out by what you glean through a page- that this great human fuck-up can best be understood by placing yourself within the head of strangers and seeing the world through their eyes for a time.
I can chart the exact instant this thought struck me- when I first finished reading Salinger's Nine Stories, particularly the utterly heart-breaking "A Perfect Day for Bananafish." To this day this book is still my favorite of his limited oeuvre and a surefire contender for Top 5 favorites of all time. While he is deservedly renowned for Holden Caulfield's teen angst, it is the subtle pathos of Nine Stories that marks him as an author without equal.
The alienated Seymour Glass, who I always pictured as a stand-in for Salinger himself, and his tragic inability to connect with anyone but young children. The prescient Teddy, whose thinly-veiled Buddhism came years before the Beats began reading Suzuki. Esme, Charles and the damaged Sergeant X- all three of whom I feel an unceasing tenderness for. The idolized Chief and the heartbreak of Mary Hudson. All of these stories I can return to again and again, myself changed by the passing of time, and find something new and rewarding to take from them. Whether it is his absolutely perfect dialogue (I know of no other author who so accurately captures the rhythm and cadence of speech), his impulse (need?) to include a death in nearly all of his stories as if to remind us that even imaginary friends can get hit by buses, his endless attempts to put into words the passive disconnection from the rest of humankind that we all, at one point or other, feel overwhelmed by. There is more literary merit in this slim volume than the whole New York Times bestseller list.
I've often harbored the dream of hanging out in Salinger's tiny New Hampshire village and somehow attracting the eye of the reclusive author- carrying groceries across the street or some such menial chore. We would get to talking and he would offer to read some of my meager works and, wonder of wonders, offer a few words of advice. You know, Daydreaming 101. Sadly this will never be. If there is a bright side to this tragic passing, it is that hopefully he’s been writing feverishly for the past 60 years and his estate will begin posthumously publishing. This is the only real kind of immortality available, and hopefully Salinger's words will be read for centuries to come.(less)