Sunday, December 6, 2015

Book Review: Cider House Rules by John Irving

From Life According to Garp to A Prayer for Owen Meany, I've loved John Irving's twisted sense of the world. And so it was only a matter of time until I meet and fell in love with Homer Wells (the protagonist of The Cider House Rules). 

Publishing date:  December 1993
Published by:  The Ballantine Publishing Group (an imprint of Random House)

My attempt to summarize the plot:  Boy is born in orphanage. Boy tries to be adopted -- fails three times. Boy finally leaves orphanage. Boy returns to orphanage.

Homer Wells, twenty-one, breathing in the steam from the hot tea; was waiting for his life to begin (p. 303)
My attempt to summarize what this book is about:  In one word -- waiting. The orphans are waiting to be adopted. Homer is waiting to begin his life. Wally is waiting for the war to start. Dr. Larch is waiting to see what the new board will do to the orphanage. The fruit pickers are waiting to pick apples. Candy is waiting to see if she will become Wally's bride or...

Yet it's so much more. It's a 'big idea' book...

Dr. Larch about Nurse Caroline...

He had heard her say, so many times, that a society that approved of making abortion illegal was a society that approved of violence against women... He had heard her say so many times, that abortions were not only a personal freedom of choice but also a responsibility of the state--to provide them. (p. 473)
Dr. Larch...
Always, in the background of his mind, there was a newborn baby crying... And they were not crying to be born, he knew; the were crying because they were born.
Why The Cider House Rules? What does this book have to say about rules?...
Homer:    "Some rules are good rules... But some rules are just rules. You just got to break them carefully." (p. 467)
Dr. Larch:  "I have no quarrel with anyone at prayer... It's when you start making rules." (p. 472)
Nurse Caroline:  "It's because even a good man can't always be right that we need a society, that we need certain rules -- call them priorities." (p. 473) 
Bottom line:  The Cider House Rules is a feel good book. And in my books, that makes it a perfect December read.


On Tuesday evening December 1st, I, like all the other members of the audience, rested comfortably in palm of Mr. Irving's hand. He charmed us; he enlightened us; he made us laugh; he made us think. What was of most interest to me was what he said about how he writes. Here's what I heard...
-his books are ending driven. He doesn't begin a project until he has written the ending and several sentences leading up to it.
-he writes with his audience in mind; he believes in characters; he believes in plot.
-momentum for the story comes from his interest in creating challenges for his characters
-he wants to create characters that his readers will fall in like/love with and worry about.
-his writing is influenced by very old sources -- Shakespeare and 19th century novels
-he always writes about what he fears will happen
-he didn't become a full-time author until his fourth novel.
He asked us, "What type of practice does a doctor or lawyer have if they only practice two hours a day?"
By the time he wrote Cider House Rules (his 6th novel), he had learnt how to write 8 hours a day/seven days a week. He said that the key to writing a well-crafted book is to write slowly.

Next post:  Christa got an education when she submitted her story to a publisher. Now she has some advice for you.

Sharing my author journey...

Me:  Last week, I was thrilled to receive a rejection letter.
You:  You were what? Thrilled? Why?
Me:  I'll explain...

Because the rejection included a personal note from one of the largest publishing houses in Canada.
Translation:  My story almost made it. One of the largest publishing houses in Canada almost choose one of my stories. (gulp)
You:  What did they say in the note?
Me:  They said they thought the main character (protagonist) was cute and that the story had an interesting twist. But...
So I re-read the picture book manuscript. Picture books are short so the writing has to be tight. The beginning of my story was a loosey goosey. So I removed everything that didn't belong and added things that did. 
Now I'm wondering if I can resubmit the revised story. What do you think?
You: .... (please leave your reply in the comment section of this blog)