Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Cider House Rules

Book Review

The Cider House Rules by John Irving.

This book has been around awhile. Since 1985, to be precise.

I've heard references to this book, infrequently, for years. Many years.

I've just never had anything pushing me to pick it up.

All it takes for me is to browse the large print section at the library and not find what I'm looking for.

That's what happened this time. And I needed to get something to read on the treadmill.

I don't remember what I was interested it at the time, but I ended up picking this off of the large print shelf.

Why not?

Never mind that I had no idea what I was getting myself into. This is a frequent occurrence for me. I just usually don't do any research on books before diving in.

I don't know whether that is good or not.

I kind of wonder if I would have read this book if I had known more of what it is about. I'm not sure. It is not exactly thought-provoking or entertaining in the ways I prefer.

The Cider House Rules

This is an epic story about an orphan and the orphanage that raised him. I say "epic" because it covers more territory than just the life of one orphan.

First, we learn about the doctor who runs the orphanage. His upbringing, formative events in his life, and ultimately his life at the orphanage.

Homer is an orphan who does get adopted several times, but none of them work out for very long. Ultimately, his home and family are the orphanage. The doctor, the nurses, and the other orphans. They are all he knows until early adulthood.

Then he meets Wally and Candy and he leaves the orphanage. His adult life is largely a reaction to his childhood. His choices and his decisions are strongly influenced by his limited set of experiences and exposure to the world.

The characterizations here are quite deep. In some cases, deeper than they really might need to be. But it certainly helps to develop our main characters beyond the second dimension.

I loved that this story relies heavily on some references to other, classic literature greats. Great Expectations. David Copperfield. Jane Eyre.

Of these, I have only read the last. But the other two have been on my reading list for quite some time. I already have both of them downloaded and ready to read, once I get the time.

I found it interesting how our author makes direct reference to the characters from these classics and compares our characters to the classic characters. Our current characters find their own similarities and differences between themselves and the classic characters.

This grounds these characters in something more than their own native setting. It feels like they gain more substance through these allusions. They gain depth.

Depth is good.

Allusions are good.

We are also given a more indirect allusion to The Scarlet Letter.  In that novel, the adulteress is forced to wear a large letter 'A' to identify her and her indiscretion.

Here, our author paints a very similar image, utilizing women receiving illegal abortions. The illicit medical recipients are sent away, but in a publicly, "marked" way. They are sent home with their panties pinned to their shoulder. This becomes their "scarlet letter", announcing their indiscretion to the world.

I was gratified to recognize the allusion. I liked it. It reenforced why I am on this mission of mine to read many of literature's best classics.

Back to The Cider House Rules....

There were many passages with details of the female anatomy that I could have lived without. They do form the basis of the underlying story, but having fewer of them could have also served the same purpose.

We are also given many detailed, and sometimes extensive, tangential narratives. They certainly add depth, but there is a difference between needing depth and just adding length. I think some of these narratives just add length.

Unneeded length.

I'm not sure this is what I would consider an uplifting story. Not exactly depressing, but not uplifting.

It has a unique plot line, but the characters do seem to find their own sense of morality in their individual lives. They muddle along. They make choices. They live.

This is an interesting, but lengthy read. It is not for those who can't appreciate the female anatomy or who can't appreciate characters who define their own morality for themselves.

Interesting, but probably not for those with a strong sense of conservative morality.

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