The Cider House Rules is the first book I have read by John Irving. Though it is a very good story, I am finding it difficult to describe the plot in simple review form. I shall do my best!
The story begins with a chapter titled "The Boy Who Belonged to St. Clouds." The boy in question is Homer Wells. He is an orphan at the St. Clouds orphanage in 1930's Maine. He is adopted several times, though each matching fails. As he enters adolescence, he accepts that he is meant to be a son of St. Clouds indefinitely.
If Homer Wells is the boy of St. Clouds, then Dr. Wilbur Larch is the father. He oversees the orphans and the hospital as well. Young single women arrive on the train. Dr. Larch delivers their unwanted children and finds them homes. It is also a well-kept secret that Dr. Larch is a safe and competent abortionist. Dr. Larch is also assisted in his duties by some loyal nurses.
As Home grows up at St. Clouds, Dr. Larch feels a fatherly bond toward him. Homer is given many responsibilities at St. Clouds. Though it is illegal, Dr. Larch begins the medical education of Homer, providing him with the most recent medical literature and teaching him basic obstetric and gynecological procedures. In time, Homer is able to abort or deliver a child, though he has had no medical school education.
There are some other orphans who have pivotal roles in the story as well. Melony is an older orphan like Homer, though she has had a tougher childhood. There is also a sickly orphan named Fuzzy Stone, who plays a very important role in the end of the story. You'll just have to read the book to find out why, sorry!
One day, two young sweethearts named Wally Worthington and Candy Kendall arrive at St. Clouds for an abortion. Dr. Larch and Homer find them to be very nice people. Wally's family owns an apple orchard and Candy's widowed father is a lobsterman.
Homer, Candy and Wally hit it off well. Dr. Larch suggests that Homer accompany the couple back home to see the ocean. The trip is only supposed to last a few days, but it turns into years.
In those years, much happens. Dr. Larch is forced to accept that Homer is gone for good, and that he chose apple farming over medicine. Homer has to come to grips with the fact that he loves Candy as much as Wally does. Then, to top it all off, Candy loves both Wally and Homer.
Then comes World War II to complicate things further. Wally has enlisted and is flying over Burma. Homer takes on more responsibility at the orchard and with Candy.
I told you this was a difficult book to review! It would appear that I have told most of the plot, but that's not the case. Let's just say that the last half of the book deals with several conflicts. I'll list them is short form for easier understanding:
- The Homer / Candy / Wally love triangle
- Homer's loyalty: St. Clouds vs. the Orchard
- Dr. Larch accepting Homer's desire to stay away from St. Clouds
- Homer and Candy fighting their feelings as Wally is in battle
- The whole perception of abortion and single motherhood in 1930's-1950's Maine
The actual "Cider House Rules" are a whole other discussion. We'd be here forever if I tried to explain them in detail. Just know that there is an entirely different side plot involving Southern blacks who migrate North yearly to pick apples. Each year, Homer posts a list of rules for the cider house designed to keep order and safety. Homer never realizes that these rules aren't readily accepted by the pickers, who are a different color and class. What we learn in the end, along with Homer, is that the real rules of the cider house aren't posted. The rules for daily life aren't categorized, itemized, and written down in basic form.
Hey, wake up! I haven't told you what I think of The Cider House Rules yet. This is a detailed story that asks for a lot of time and thought from the reader. The subject of abortion plays a heavy role in the story. Which side do you take? John Irving's story also confronts love, loyalty, betrayal, trust and honesty. How does that make you feel?
The Cider House Rules is a complicated story on paper. I have no idea how or if they portrayed these events of film.
Do I recommend The Cider House Rules? Yes. I only ask that you give the story a lot of your own time and thought. John Irving's work deserves that much effort.