The Cider House Rules by John Irving is the story of an orphanage and it's inhabitants. Focusing mostly on the aging Dr. Larch and the orphan Homer Wells. Dr. Larch is the only doctor at the St. Cloud's orphanage in Maine which has a small secret. They don't just deliver babies at St. Clouds, they help prevent them too. The story takes place from the early 1900's to the 1950's, a time when abortions are very much illegal no matter the circumstances. Dr. Larch is haunted by a memory from his past which drives him to the help the women that no one else will do.
Homer Wells is an orphan, born at St. Cloud's, who repeatedly proves that he belongs there. The Dr. and nurse of the orphanage keep trying to find him a new home but Homer always finds a way back until they just quit trying. Dr. Larch decides then that Homer would make a good doctor and sets about training a teenage Homer in the ways of the orphanage. Mainly, ensuring each woman who comes gets an "orphan or an abortion". The more Homer sees of the daily operations of St. Cloud's the more disillusioned with becoming a doctor he becomes. When a young couple comes to St. Cloud's and offers a means of escape, Homer readily takes it.
Over the next several years both Homer and Dr. Larch struggle with Homer's absence. Homer struggles to find his place in this new world while the Dr. struggles with his absence. Even at a distance the two fall into a father-son type relationship with the 'son' wanting to go his own way and the 'father' wanting him to follow in his footsteps.
I really enjoyed the book. I was afraid, going in, that the main theme of abortion and a woman's right to choose would be hard to read 500+ pages over. However, while abortion may be prevalent in the book, I didn't feel that the issues was beat over your head. By the middle, it's just an underlying theme while the characters interactions and personal growth take center stage. Each character is clearly developed and you get a good sense of each one. I could easily picture each and every person mentioned and their personality is clearly defined. When someone talks you don't even need a clarifying "Homer said" or anything like that because their 'voice' is so easily distinguishable.
Overall, it was a compelling story, an interesting read and I would recommend it. A word of caution though. I am not a big fan of abortions, though I try not to judge anyone who may choose to get one for their own reasons, and the subject matter didn't really bother me. However, if you have very strong feelings on the matter, this book may be a bit harder for you to read. You have been warned.
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