Book Riot’s 2019 Read Harder Challenge suggested The Cider House Rules by John Irving as a book by or about someone who identifies as neurodiverse, and as I adored his A Prayer for Owen Meany and have always wanted to read this book, I jumped right in.
The Cider House Rules tells the story of Homer, an orphan raised in the orphanage at St. Cloud, Maine, where women come for either an orphan or an abortion, performed by Dr. Wilbur Larch, ether addict extraordinaire. As Homer nears adulthood, he begins to train with Dr. Larch but refuses to perform abortions, despite his skill. With this attitude and his desire to know more of life outside of St. Cloud, Homer leaves with a wealthy young couple who came seeking an abortion, set to begin his new life working in their family’s apple orchard.
But his new life is far more complicated than just picking apples and pruning trees. Wally, the golden only son of the owners of Ocean View Apple Orchards, quickly becomes Homer’s best friend…but Homer is in love with Wally’s girlfriend Candy, who also has feelings for Homer. Underlying this complex love triangle are the rumblings of World War II and the aging Dr. Larch’s growing need for someone to take over his work, a job desperately needed by the women who come seeking his services.
Tragedy and uncertainty come to Ocean View Apple Orchards, and this sets into motion a chain of events that will change the lives of everyone Homer has ever known or will know. Through it all, John Irving weaves a story thick with emotion, one that delves deeply into the idea of home, where we belong, the rules we follow and those we choose to ignore, what being truly useful is, and what we owe each other as human beings.
This is a slow read. Not due to any flaw in the writing; there’s just so much to absorb in each of John Irving’s carefully chosen words, and my copy of the book had 567 pages, making it one of my longer reads this year (if not THE longest so far). The story itself is so deep and such a thorough examination of the human psyche that I don’t feel like any plot synopsis could do this novel justice. I didn’t even begin to scratch the surface with the complexities Mr. Irving managed: Melony and her anger; the real story of Fuzzy Stone versus the one Dr. Larch created for him; the nurses; Olive Worthington and her husband, Senior. Everything is so deeply interwoven in the most intricate way, and I’m in awe of John Irving’s skill as a writer. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to forget the room full of sleeping orphans, the office with the tang of ether, the row after row of apple trees, Ray Kendall’s dock where Candy and Homer would sit, and the list of rules tacked to the wall in the cider house, because I spent so much time in all of those places, emotionally invested in every character in this book.
I vaguely remember seeing parts of the movie…somewhere. One of the libraries around here has it, and I’ll grab it the next time I’m there, because now I’m curious to see how this adapts to film. If you’ve both read the book and watched the movie, I’d love to know how they compare. I actually thought I’d read another John Irving novel, but looking through my Goodreads list, I guess I’ve only read these two. Have you read more? Any suggestions as to what I should read next from him? (For when I gather up the courage, that is. His novels are so complex that I think I need some time to process before I feel ready to pick him up again.)