Tommy's Reviews > The Cider House Rules

The Cider House Rules by John Irving
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Sep 12, 2009

it was amazing
Read in September, 2009

I love this book and Irving's way of framing the abortion debate within a beautiful complex story and wonderful set of characters. I was going to write a longer review on this but then I saw the review written by goodreads member Ben Harrison and it pretty much encapsulated what I was thinking and feeling, and being lazy I just posted most of it below.

I don't know you Ben, but thanks for your review! Hope you don't mind my laziness or the parts of your review I left out, (not as big a grammar fan but also appreciate a well used semicolon).

So a portion of Ben's review....
More than a week after finishing, The Cider House Rules, it's still on my mind, still sneaking into my brain at different times in the day; still a part of me. Washing my face last night, talking to myself, "Just a light touch there with the wash cloth on the cheeks there, Benny, -- just like Dr. Larch with the Ether, light touch". And trust me, it's not just that: I feel like I know the characters. And I think about them randomly, periodically, throughout the day.

The novel takes place in the first half of the 20th century, in Maine. Most of this is at an orphanage hidden away in the remote town of St. Clouds; a former logging camp, now desolate, lifeless, and empty-feeling -- with it's past of whore's and ruffians still present in it's aura. This is the perfect place for savior Dr. Larch’s orphanage, where he also performs abortions, which were illegal at the time. Larch was the only known abortion doctor in the area that didn't provide them in dangerous ways - Doc Larch performed them correctly and safely, with great respect and care for the female’s dignity and health. This is also where protagonist orphan, Homer Wells, spends his childhood and teen years; where he learns to become Dr. Larch's helper. He spent some interesting -- to say the least -- periods of time living with foster families as well, but finds that the St. Clouds orphanage is his real home.

And then, true to Homer's odd life, he ends up leaving the orphanage under unique circumstances. The story follows Homer into adulthood where he lives at “Ocean View Orchards”. During this time you get the feeling that Homer’s destiny is unfolding, but into what, you don’t know; you just know that it’s not going as planned. Homer also develops a powerful yet complex and taboo love; finds meaningful work; meets life changing people that are his new family, all while being away from his true father figure, Dr. Larch. There are a lot of interweaving storylines that result in humane, moral lessons that show through beautifully -- if not at the time, then at the end of the book, or after reflection.

More than anything, this book got me thinking about abortion. I thought about it hard: more in-depthly and more seriously than I ever had before. It became something other than an abstract concept to me; I felt for the women that needed them, and I felt for the boy who believed that it was murder. It humanized the issue for me, and solidified my formerly tepid belief in a woman's right to choose. It's pretty clear that Irving agrees with this (a woman's right to choose); a major part of the story is in fact, him making the pro choice point; but I could also see someone walking away from this with a pro life stance, or a more adamant belief in that stance. After all, young Homer was an orphan that liked his life and made positive contributions to the world, all of which wouldn't have happened if his mother hadn't chosen life. At the same time though, our story takes place when abortion was illegal, and you see Dr. Larch save lives, and the issue of choice itself is framed almost perfectly. The book made me realize the impact that an abortion, non-abortion, or botched abortion can have on someone's life. You have no choice but to have an opinion on it after reading this book, because you get hit with the weight of it's seriousness.

The Cider House Rules has all the traits of a good Irving novel: the humane, odd, and likable characters with unusual life experiences; a storyline with moral undertones; profound scenes -- some zany and humorous -- others wise and touching. Don't get me wrong, this book isn't for everyone. It doesn’t take off right away -someone with fast paced standards may even consider the whole first half slow. If you're adamantly pro-life, you probably won't find yourself enjoying this book -- abortion is too much of an ongoing issue. And abortion isn't the only weighty theme here: betrayal, war, morality, laws-and-rules, the soul, incest, family, death, violence against women; the list goes on.

Essentially, The Cider House Rules is about the many rules of life: some written, others not; some meant to be broken; some need to be created. It's about the concept of fate and how our decisions affect both our own lives and the lives of others -- whether they are from playing by the rules, or not. An exchange from the book sums this up quite well:

“Every time you throw a snail off the dock,' Ray teased Homer Wells, 'you're making someone start his whole life over.'

'Maybe I'm doing him a favor,' said Homer Wells, the orphan."
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