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THE CIDER HOUSE RULES

A NOVEL

As in The World According to Garp, a young man is trying to find his way as he grows up amid institutional, individual, familial, and social craziness in upper New England. An orphan whose adoptions never stick, Homer Wells keeps returning to the institution in remote St. Cloud's, Maine, that is presided over by it's elderly founder, ascetic Dr. Wilbur Larch, committed and expert obstetrician and abortionist (as well as ether addict). Dr. Latch's creed is to give people what they want: an orphan or an abortion. He and his aging female staff count on Homer to grow up to succeed Larch in "the Lord's work" of providing abortions in this pre-World War II world; but while Homer is an accomplished apprentice, his principles are resolutely pro-life. At 20, he leaves the orphanage to live with a wealthy family of coastal apple-growers, whose son and future daughter-in-law are the Golden Delicious variety and become his closest friends. Homer becomes expert at the business, which involves sorting marketable perfect apples from the bruised ones good only for the cider press. But with the apples comes temptation, leading to problems with the rules of love, a not-quite Jules-et-Jim-like solution, and an ultimate crisis that brings the book to a resounding, but awfully pat, resolution. As with Garp, Irving is not afraid of sentiment—and here knows how to stir the emotions in skillful depictions of parental love, unwanted orphans, Alzheimer-stricken adults, and distraught women desperate for a D&C. Even in scenes of appalling horror, Irving can be very funny—he shows obvious indebtedness to Dickens—but there is a less savory element in the way he presents some of his pathetic characters—especially females—as titillating freaks. And the cranking out of the less-than-gripping plot is made palatable largely by episodic situations involving the more vivid minor characters. Most seriously, despite echoes of the clearly "significant" title throughout, it is not at all clear what exactly is the novel's point. Finally, this effort is sometimes moving or amusing, but also irritating and ultimately disappointing.

Pub Date: June 17, 1985

ISBN: 0679603352

Page Count: 571

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1985

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HOUSE OF LEAVES

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and...

An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel - ten years in the making - that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted-house tale.

Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related "documents" and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb inhabited by esteemed photographer-filmmaker Will Navidson, his companion Karen Green (an ex-fashion model), and their young children Daisy and Chad.  The record of their experiences therein is preserved in Will's film The Davidson Record - which is the subject of an unpublished manuscript left behind by a (possibly insane) old man, Frank Zampano - which falls into the possession of Johnny Truant, a drifter who has survived an abusive childhood and the perverse possessiveness of his mad mother (who is institutionalized).  As Johnny reads Zampano's manuscript, he adds his own (autobiographical) annotations to the scholarly ones that already adorn and clutter the text (a trick perhaps influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) - and begins experiencing panic attacks and episodes of disorientation that echo with ominous precision the content of Davidson's film (their house's interior proves, "impossibly," to be larger than its exterior; previously unnoticed doors and corridors extend inward inexplicably, and swallow up or traumatize all who dare to "explore" their recesses).  Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture.  Or, as "some critics [have suggested,] the house's mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it."

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly.  One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year.

Pub Date: March 6, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-70376-4

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000

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OF MICE AND MEN

Steinbeck is a genius and an original.

Steinbeck refuses to allow himself to be pigeonholed.

This is as completely different from Tortilla Flat and In Dubious Battle as they are from each other. Only in his complete understanding of the proletarian mentality does he sustain a connecting link though this is assuredly not a "proletarian novel." It is oddly absorbing this picture of the strange friendship between the strong man and the giant with the mind of a not-quite-bright child. Driven from job to job by the failure of the giant child to fit into the social pattern, they finally find in a ranch what they feel their chance to achieve a homely dream they have built. But once again, society defeats them. There's a simplicity, a directness, a poignancy in the story that gives it a singular power, difficult to define.  Steinbeck is a genius and an original.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 1936

ISBN: 0140177396

Page Count: 83

Publisher: Covici, Friede

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1936

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