Synopses & Reviews
The Cider House Rules
is set in rural Maine in the first half of this century. It tells the story of Homer Wells, an orphan who is raised and mentored by Wilbur Larch, the doctor at the orphanage. Dr. Larch teaches Homer everything about medicine. Yet though his capacity for kindness is saintly, Larch is also an ether addict. He and Homer come into conflict, which is typical of many father-son relationships, but in this case their conflict is intensified by their disagreement about abortion. The result is that Homer leaves the only family he has ever known.
Homer's new life provides more excitement than he could have imagined, especially when he falls in love for the first time. But, when forced to make decisions that will change the course of his future, Homer realizes that he can't escape his past. The Cider House Rules is ultimately about the choices we make and the rules that are meant to be broken.
"Witty, tenderhearted, fervent, and scarifying....This novel is an example, now rare, of the courage of imaginative ardor." The New York Times Book Review
"John Irving's sixth and best novel....He is among the very best storytellers at work today. At the base of Irving's own moral concerns is a rare and lasting regard for human kindness." Philadelphia Inquirer
"Irving is in top form in this capacious novel of personal discovery....Deft realism in both scene and characterization...The Cider House Rules is a mature, entertaining novel." Library Journal
"An old-fashioned, big-hearted novel...with its epic yearnings caught in the 19th century, somewhere between Trollope and Twain....The rich detail makes for vintage Irving...straightforward and tender." Boston Sunday Globe
"A moving, sometimes hilarious, and unfailingly entertaining story." St. Petersburg Times
"John Irving is the most relentlessly inventive writer around...A truly astounding amount of artistry and ingenuity....Entertaining and affecting." San Diego Union
Raised from birth in the orphanage at St. Cloud's, Maine, Homer Wells has become the protege of Dr. Wilbur Larch, its physician and director. There Dr. Larch cares for the troubled mothers who seek his help, either by delivering and taking in their unwanted babies or by performing illegal abortions. Meticulously trained by Dr. Larch, Homer assists in the former, but draws the line at the latter. Then a young man brings his beautiful fiancee to Dr. Larch for an abortion, and everything about the couple beckons Homer to the wide world outside the orphanage...
First published in 1985, The Cider House Rules is John Irving's sixth novel. Set in rural Maine in the first half of this century, it tells the story of Dr. Wilbur Larch saint and obstetrician, founder and director of the orphanage in the town of St. Cloud's, ether addict and abortionist. It is also the story of Dr. Larch's favorite orphan, Homer Wells, who is never adopted.
About the Author
John Irving published his first novel at the age of twenty-six. He has received awards from the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Guggenheim Foundation; he has won an O. Henry Award, a National Book Award, and an Academy Award. Mr. Irving lives with his family in Toronto and Vermont.
Reading Group Guide
1. The rules posted on the cider house wall aren't read or understood by anyone living there except Mr. Rose, who makes -- and breaks -- his own set of rules. What point is John Irving making with the unread rules?
2. What rules, both written and unwritten, do other characters follow in the novel? Did most characters violate their own rules? Who stays the most true to his or her rules?
3. Dr. Larch makes the interesting statement that because women don't legally have the right to choose, Homer Wells does not have a moral claim in choosing not to perform abortions. Do you find Larch's argument compelling? Do you think Homer was ultimately convinced or that he needed an escape from Ocean View?
4. In order to set future events on what he believes to be the correct path, Larch alters the history of the orphanage to create a false heart murmur for Homer and changes various school transcripts to create Dr. Fuzzy Stone. What other doctoring of history does Larch do? Do you think Homer, as Dr. Fuzzy Stone, will continue the tradition?
5. St. Cloud's setting is grim, unadorned, and unhealthy, while Ocean View is healthy, wide open, and full of opportunities. In what ways do the settings of the orphanage and the orchards belie their effect on their residents? What did you make of Homer bringing the apple trees to St. Cloud's?
6. As you were reading, what did you expect Melony to do to Homer when she finally found him? Though Homer forgets about Melony for many years, do you think she had more of an impact on his future than Candy did?
7. Larch's introduction to sex comes through a prostitute and her daughter, and his introduction to abortion is given by the same women. Sex with Melony, the picture of the pony, and abortions performed by Larch introduces Homer to the same issues, yet Homer doesn't maintain sexual abstinence as Larch does. Why do you think this is? Do you think Larch substitutes ether for sex?
8. Violence against women forms a thread throughout the novel; Melony fights off apple pickers, Grace receives constant beatings from her husband, and Rose Rose suffers incest. Does the author seem to be making a connection between violence and sex? How do the women's individual responses to violence reflect their personalities?
9. The issues of fatherhood are complex--as seen in Larch's relation-ship with Homer, and Homer's relationship with Angel -- but being a good father or good parent is stressed throughout. According to the novel, what are some of the ingredients that make a good father? Is truthfulness one of them?
10. Candy's "wait and see" philosophy contrasts with Larch's constant tinkering with the future to suit his desires. Based on his personality, is Homer better suited to waiting or to working?
11. Herb Fowler's sabotaged condoms are one example of how people and rules in Ocean View are actually the opposite of what they seem. What other examples can you recall?
12. 12. Near the end, Homer's meeting with Melony is a turning point, spurring him to reveal the truth about Angel's parentage and to return to St. Cloud's, where he can be "of use." While reading, did you want to learn more about Melony's adventures during the intervening years or less? Which character do you think drove the novel's momentum?
13. If you saw the film adaptation of The Cider House Rules, discuss the aspects of the story that you think were stronger in the novel, and the portions of the film that were especially potent. What are your feelings about film adaptations of novels in general, and about the adaptation of this novel in particular? 14. What did you find to be particularly effective or well done in Irving's writing? If you've read other Irving novels, name some of the themes that he carries over from novel to novel.
From the Trade Paperback edition.