History: This book was published in 1985.
Plot: This story involves two main characters, Wilbur Larch and Homer Wells. After a traumatic misadventure with a prostitute as a young man, Wilbur turns his back on sex and on love, choosing instead to serve the community by helping women with unwanted pregnancies give birth and then keeping the babies in an orphanage. He makes a point of maintaining an emotional distance from the orphans, so that they can more easily make the transition into an adoptive family, but when it becomes clear that Homer is going to spend his entire childhood at the orphanage, Wilbur trains the orphan as a doctor and then comes to love him. Homer chooses to leave the orphanage with Candy and Wally. Wally gets enlisted into World War 2 and his plane is shot down. Believing Wally to be dead, Homer and Candy have an affair and Candy consequently becomes pregnant. Candy secretly gives birth to a boy named Angel at the orphanage where she becomes the first mother to take her own child home with her. Subsequently, Wally is found alive, and so Candy and Homer return home. They lie to the family about Angel's parentage, claiming that Homer decided to adopt him. Wally and Candy marry shortly afterwards, but Candy and Homer maintain a secret affair that lasts some 15 years. Many years later, when Angel is a teenager, he makes friends with Rose Rose, the daughter of a migrant worker at the apple orchard, who becomes pregnant with her father's child, and Homer performs an abortion on her. Homer decides to return to the orphanage after the death of Dr. Larch, and works as the new director. This is the culminating love-of-civitas step in Homer's life. Homer and Candy eventually tell Angel that they are his biological parents.
Review: I really liked this but had a really hard time trying to pin down exactly why. I’ve read Garp and didn’t really enjoy that at all. What I think got me here was the way the whole story was tinged with a kind of melancholy. That melancholy made the whole range of characters appeal to me like very few novels have. There are usually characters in a novel you side with, you relate to, you feel for. Then there are those you want to see hanged. But in Cider, Irving manages to help you sympathize with all of them. Even the one you really don’t want to you still feel something for - it’s a kind of respect. And to me, to create characters that you fear hating because you fear not respecting them as people is a triumph of fiction. It’s all to easy to hate Uriah Heep, for example. He’s way too stereotyped. But Irving has created with Cider a range of characters, all of whom you respect as people. I think, actually, that is quite profound. After all, the novel does revolve around an issue which divides whole communities and nations. Even so, it is so well crafted and seen through the intimacies of those involved that you manage to see both sides of it all the way through. It truly is a remarkable book, much better than The World According to Garp.
Opening Line: “In the hospital of the orphanage - the boys’ division at St. Cloud’s, Maine - two nurses were in charge of naming the new babies and checking that their little penises were healing from the obligatory circumcision.”
Closing Line: “To Nurse Edna, who was in love, and to Nurse Angela, who wasn’t (but who had in her wisdom named both Homer Wells and Fuzzy Stone), there was no fault to be found in the hearts of either Dr. Stone or Dr. Larch, who were - if there ever were - Princes of Maine, Kings of New England.”
Quotes: “Goodnight, you princes of Maine, you kings of New England.”