The Cider House Rules by John Irving

Posted January 25, 2018 by Amber in Reviews / 0 Comments

The Cider House Rules

The Cider House Rules

by John Irving

Publisher: William Morrow on June 1, 1985
Genre: Classics, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction
Target Age Group: Adult

Rating: ★★★

Check out this book on Goodreads

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.


This book is pretty heavily loaded.  You want to talk about your controversial material?  Your sad, real life stuff?  In these pages, John Irving discusses:

  • abortion
  • prostitution
  • addiction
  • war
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • child abuse
  • rape
  • homosexuality
  • infidelity
  • racism
  • Communism

The list goes on an on.  I’m not complaining about the addressing of these topics, but man, I did not know what I was getting into.  It’s a fairly long book, so there’s a lot of ground to cover.  I’ll be as brief as possible, but holy moly was this a lot.

1.  This book is not about any one person, but a community of connected people.  There are multiple POVs.  Some people, you don’t meet until halfway through the novel.  They all contribute to the social issues, but the parts they play in the actual plot differs in importance.

2.  There are no real heroes in this book.  It’s a break from normal convention, where you’ll get one “good” person or one “bad” person.  Everyone in this book seems well intentioned, but troubled.  Except maybe Nurse Angela – she seems okay.

3.  While I do agree that the social topics mentioned in this book all need to be discussed, I’m not sure I agree with putting them all into the same book.  It makes it really, really heavy.  In addition to that, not all of them are well represented.  They’re not the worst, but when you tie something like incest and racism together in the same few characters, it sort of nullifies the point you were trying to make about racism by promoting a terrible racial presumption.

4.  While Homer was always pretty humdrum, I expected more of the other characters.  Wally and Candy, for example, were fabulous in the beginning, but fell really flat.  And Melony?  She was terrible, then interesting, then more or less faded out.  It was a bit disappointing to see how Melony in particular was wrapped up.

5.  As if the hammering of social injustices weren’t enough, this book was really preachy about abortion.  Regardless of whether you are pro-life or pro-abortion, I think anyone would find the constant philosophical discussion about it exhausting.

6.  The detailed descriptions of medical procedures made me squirm.  If I ever doubted my career and thought about going into the medical field, The Cider House Rules proved that I am not up to the task.  The description of a dilation and curettage, in particular, made me uncomfortable.  I had one of this after my first miscarriage and it is way too easy to imagine how the “grinding and scraping” must have felt in my uterus.  No, no, nope!

7.  When I borrowed this book from Overdrive, I was a bit worried that my lending term would be up before I could finish it.  Pointless concern!  Despite its length and apparent lack of direction most times (I was a bit bitter about the Homer and Dr. Larch resolution), The Cider House Rules is a compelling and gripping novel.  I was sucked into it.

8.  I’ve noticed on Goodreads that a lot of people see uncertain what the title has to do with the story?  The Cider House (where the migrant workers stay in the fall) has a typed list of rules in on its wall (that nobody follows).  There’s a scene a little more than halfway through the book in which Homer and Mr. Rose discuss the Cider House Rules, and Mr. Rose’s own rules.  From that point on, it become fairly clear what this book is truly about – it’s about societal rules, personal rules, and the consequences of breaking and bending them.

9.  I was relieved when this book was over.  Like I said earlier, it was interesting and filled with well detailed scenes, but it was exhausting.  There’s a lot of betrayal and lying and lost hope that wears and tears on the heart.  And then there was some stuff (like the picture of the girl with the pony) that I was 100% no about, and I spent a good deal of time worrying, “Oh brother, what next?”

10.  Of all the characters, I didn’t like Dr. Larch.  It’s not that I disagreed with his ideals, but more that he seemed like a pompous ass who would be insufferable to be around.  I don’t understand Nurse Edna’s infatuation, I really don’t.

Overall, I wouldn’t say I liked this book.  I thought it was interesting.  I’m glad I read it, but it’s not really something I would re-read.  I think it’s a great and interesting book if you want to read something by John Irving, if you want to read about a lot of social issues still embarrassingly prevalent thirty years later, or if you’re interested in medical procedure or apple farming.  As a classic, it’s worth picking up, but brace yourself for a lot of moral and social discussion and don’t get too attached to any character.

Ratings Breakdown

Setting: ★★★★
Plot: ★★★ 1/2
Characters: ★★★ 1/2
Writing: ★★★★
Pacing: ★ 1/2
Narrator: ★★★ 1/2
Personal Enjoyment: ★★★

3 Star Rating


Have you read this book or anything by this author?  If so, did you enjoy it?  Tell me all about your experience in the comments!

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