I am not sure why I have not read a book by John Irving until now, but I’m sure glad I finally tried him. I could tell from the first few pages of The Cider House Rules that it was going to be good. His writing is wonderful, especially his descriptions of characters and setting. It didn’t even really matter what the book was going to be about, as I could just tell from the writing that I would enjoy the experience of reading it. I turned out completely right in my expectations. In fact, it was one of those books where I wished I was still reading it after it finished, and I actually feel envious of my husband who is reading it after me.
Besides the writing itself being good, the plot was engaging and the characters were interesting and human. The book takes place in Maine during the first half of the century, and tells the story of two people: Dr. Wilbur Larch, who runs an orphanage in a remote location in Maine, and Homer Wells, one of the orphans. Dr. Larch is an obstetrician and women come to the orphanage either to give birth and leave the baby behind, or to have an abortion. When Homer is a teenager, Dr. Larch trains him in obstetrical procedure, hoping he will become a doctor, but Homer must take his own path through life as he figures out how he can “be of use” in the world.
I felt that Irving gave the so-often-thorny subject of abortion a sensitive and humane touch. I would say that overall the book has a pro-choice bent, but in general I felt that it was not so much political as personal. Irving humanizes the issue of abortion by putting interesting characters into realistic situations where the choices are not black and white. While abortion is a central theme in the novel, it is not the only one: Irving also covers issues such as relationships, truth, meaning of life, religion, and racism. In dealing with all of these issues, the characters and the choices they must make seem human and realistic, and therefore the book provides food for thought on these heavy topics without feeling preachy.
I highly recommend The Cider House Rules, and I look forward to reading more by John Irving.