The Cider House Rules by John Irving

March 15, 2011

Plot summary (from the publisher): First published in 1985, The Cider House Rules is set in rural Maine in the first half of the twentieth century. The novel tells the story of Dr. Wilbur Larch–saint and obstetrician, founder and director of the orphanage in the town of St. Cloud’s, ether addict and abortionist. This is also the story of Dr. Larch’s favorite orphan, Homer Wells, who is never adopted.

Warning: Spoilers below!


  • Almost all the characters in this book were vivid and three-dimensional. This does not only apply to Dr. Larch, Homer, Candy, and Wally, but to many of the minor characters as well. When characters are this well developed, it’s hard not to learn to enjoy their company over the course of a 600-page book!
  • After Homer Wells, I’d say that Melony was my second-favorite character. There was something sort of pathetic about her in the way she pined for Homer all those years, but at the same time, she went on and lived her life. I could completely understand where she was coming from, and wanted her to be happy with her choices.
  • The Mr. Rose death scene was well done. The circumstances of the killing were disgusting, of course, but I liked that he received the Cider House brand of justice in the end.
  • The father-son relationship between Homer and Angel was sweet. It made sense that Homer would be such a kind, caring father since he essentially grew up without one. (I don’t like that he lied about Angel being adopted, of course, but he was a good father all the same). And yes, Dr. Larch was a father figure, but that relationship didn’t form until Homer was 16. Homer did everything he could to make sure Angel had what he (Homer) never did.
  • I liked that Homer took his place at St. Cloud’s in the end. It was obvious that he would end up there, but again, the way the character was developed, it was wholly fitting and never felt forced. I just wish he had seen Dr. Larch one more time before the man died.
  • Speaking of death, I liked that Homer decided to give Melony a proper burial instead of using her body for dissection practice. That gesture showed that he cared about her, at least a little bit. Once again, though, I wish he could have communicated that while she was still alive. I think that would have meant a lot to Melony.


  • As good as the book was overall, there were definitely some boring patches that took a lot of perseverance to slog through. Some people will probably be tempted to just put the book aside when these parts crop up, and I honestly wouldn’t blame them. I deducted a star off my rating because of this problem.
  • I didn’t like that we never got anyone’s reactions when Candy and Homer finally spilled the beans about Angel’s true parentage. Homer and Angel sat on the roof of the Cider House alone, and Candy and Wally went off on their own as well. I know that Wally knew about Candy and Homer long before Candy fessed up, but I still thought readers deserved to be privy to the reactions.
  • I could have done without the gruesome details of Dr. Larch’s practice. I understand that was a major theme of the book and all that, but Irving got pretty graphic at times.


The Cider House Rules is the second John Irving book I’ve ever read. I did not like Last Night at Twisted River at all, and though there are some similar themes between the two works, I’m glad I gave Cider House Rules a chance. This was a terrific book with characters I won’t soon forget. They were all just striving for their own version of happiness, which made them immensely relatable. I give the novel 4 stars out of 5.

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