Michael's Reviews > The Cider House Rules

The Cider House Rules by John Irving
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Dr. Wilbur Leach became a physician partly because of the need to give something back to his community. When he sees two women die due to botched, illegal abortions, he decides to perform sound medical abortions and attempt to teach women about the dangers of having a person, who is not trained, provide that service.

When he becomes medical director of St. Cloud's Orphanage, in Maine, he became a legend. Women sought him out to deliver their babies without charge. They would often leave their babies at the orphanage for adoption. Other women came to the orphanage for the free, no questions asked, abortions.

Homer Wells is born at St. Clouds. He's loved by the staff and by Dr. Leach. He went through a number of adoption attempts which fell through, always returning to what he considered his true home, the orphanage. He remained there and later became Dr. Leach's assistant.

The detailed and beautifully written story tells of life in Maine in the early and mid twentieth century. It describes the effect of the closing of the mills, the pollution in the water and the meager life of so many of the ignorant, poor people who dwelled there.


One of Irving's themes is for a person to do something good to others. However, there are painful moments in the novel. People adopt for the wrong reasons, Wilbur performs the abortions with a callous feeling for the unborn life he is taking and there is no attempt to disuade the woman who want abortions and mention alternatives such as adoption. Wilbur is also an ether addict, in part, due to the gonorrhea he contacted when his father brought him to a prostitute as a right of passage into manhood. The story seems to paint Wilbur as a crusading saint when he has many flaws.

The story is a classic. Homer Wells is one of the most empathetic characters in literature. He is someone the reader will remember fondly well after the novel is finished.
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