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John Irving published his first novel, Setting Free the Bears, in 1968. He has been nominated for a National Book Award three times-winning once, in 1980, for the novel The World According to Garp. He also received an O. Henry Award, in 1981, for the short story "Interior Space." In 1992, Mr. Irving was inducted into the National Wrestling Hall of Fame in Stillwater, Oklahoma. In 2000, he won the Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay for The Cider House Rules-a film with seven Academy Award nominations. In 2001, he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
For more information about the author, please visit www.john-irving.com
It amazes me how Irving can broach topics like adoption, abortion, love, faithfulness, etc. with such empathy and balance. This is the only discussion I've ever encountered of abortion, pro or con, that zeroed in on the core issue, then explored both sides of it in such an enlightening manner. And although abortion is a major theme in this novel, it's not what the book is about--it's just a way of discussing the overall theme--rules. It doesn't matter whether you're liberal, conservative, or somewhere in between. Irving will make you think, and give you a chance to question and refine some of your own views, while at the same time read a very engaging story that provokes and entertains from beginning to end.
This was the first John Irving novel I ever read, back in 1989. I quickly read everything he'd had published, and aside from A Prayer for Owen Meany, this was my favorite. When you read an author's entire catalog in one sitting, you notice their habits and literary devices, and John Irving, while one of my favorite writers, had a tendency to make use of the same images over and over again (dressmaker's dummies, old men with bears and old cars with rusted out floors, etc.). However, Cider House was refreshingly free of those repetitive images, and decidedly different. It skillfully looks at issues ranging from abortion to the conditions of migrant farm workers to fidelity, while all of them are tied together by the single theme of making choices. Every choice made by every character in this novel has repercussions, and it is a mark of the excellent writing that you never feel you're being beaten over the head by the outcomes. I've not seen the movie, so I can't compare it, but if you're looking for a good book, you'll find one here.
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You can't evaluate "The Cider House Rules" on the basis of the plot: to say that the book is about an orphan who grows up in an orphanage run by an abortionist, meets a young couple (there for an abortion), leaves with them, and falls in love with the woman, is to miss about 90 percent of what makes the book special. I've only read one other book by John Irving ("The Hotel New Hampshire"), but it seems to be the case that his novels are so incredibly character-driven. As you read the books, you get the sense that he is so attuned to the people who populate his world that he could write novels centered on any of them. Now, you are probably aware that the book is somewhat about abortion. Indeed, Irving clearly has a point to make about the pro-choice vs. pro-life debate, and it's pretty clear which side he's on. But at the same time, to say that the book is "about" abortion is like saying that "Casablanca" is about World War 2. Clearly, abortion is inextricably intertwined with the plot and the characters, but the novel is not about abortion; rather, it's about characters who have to make life decisions, including about abortion. One final note: for better or worse, I tend not to have much patience for "literature." I've read some Dickens, but would never do so for fun. My idea of great literature is "Cryptonomicon" by Neal Stephenson. But . . . I absolutely loved reading "The Cider House Rules" and I was never bored.
I just finished this book last night and can honestly say that I loved every single page. It was so interesting and entertaining to read that I could read twenty pages and not even remember turning one! These are my favorite kinds of novels: ones where you debate whether to spend much of each day reading because you can't wait to see what happens next or whether to slow down because you already know that you'll be sad once the book is through. I'm happy with how long it took me to read this book, but I'm still sad that it is over. I've never gotten to know the characters in a book the way that Irving allows the reader to know them. I read some reviews on Amazon.com that claimed that the book was not good because the characters were unrealistic-- I whole-heartedly disagree. Even characters that Irving could have gotten away with making one-dimensional were anything but. I think of the stationmaster who lived near St. Clouds and, without giving anything away, I will say that he had some quirks and fears that did seem a little extreme to me in the beginning. However, Irving adds background to ALL of the characters, and invites the reader to understand their traits as they would a friend. In this way, there are no bad guys or good guys in the novel-- everyone is allowed compassion and understanding. Beyond creating an interesting story, this shows that everyone that one encounters in their life has an important story behind who they are. John Irving also weaves different issues into The Cider House Rules: abortion, friendship, family, love (especially the importance of love to a child and to a partner). And, in addition to weaving these themes and issues into the story, Irving always has different sub plots going on in different settings.Read more ›
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John Irving, for my money, is one of the top two or three American storytellers of our time. Like Dickens, his literary hero, Irving is always concerned with his readers' well-being. His novels range from the sublime (The World According to Garp) to the mediocre (The 158-Pound Marriage), but even the weakest are entertaining. The Cider House Rules falls beneath sublime but well above mediocre. The characters are engaging (it would be a mean reader indeed who did not root for the protagonist, Homer Wells) and the plot meanders about pleasantly. Sometimes the tearful moments seem too easy-- nobody can stay dry-eyed when a cute little orphan keels over-- but the book bravely explores the complexities of love and abortion without preaching for any particular side. It's a good book but if you're looking for vintage Irving, head for the classics: The World According to Garp and The Hotel New Hampshire. Or track down my personal favorite, The Water-Method Man, which remains to this day the funniest book I've ever read (with the possible exception of J.P. Donleavy's The Ginger Man).