From the master of the absurdist novel, an ordinary tale of moviemaking. Many of John Irving’s novels have been made into motion picture features over the years, including The World According to Garp, The Hotel New Hampshire, and A Prayer for Owen Meany (which Hollywood retitled Simon Birch). He wrote screenplays for two of his works, Setting Free the Bears and A Son of the Circus, but never got them as far as the screen. Now he focuses on the making of The Cider House Rules in exhaustive and excruciating detail. The film, starring Michael Caine and Tobey Maguire, will be released in conjunction with the book—or rather, the book will be released in conjunction with the film, since the film is likely the bigger money-making prospect. And so, on the evidence here, it should be. Irving mentions in passing that he was once told that a novel should be larger—more complex and more interesting—than a newspaper story about real life. So too, he might have reasoned, should a memoir move beyond a mere recounting of what happened to a particular person at a particular time. But Irving gets so lost in telling stories of every change he made in every draft, of characters lost, of scenes deleted, of motivations corrupted, that he never gets around to telling a story of his own. It is as if he had made a deal when The Cider House Rules went into production that if he were upset about any compromises, he could write a book of his own detailing everything that was left out. The obvious problem here is that he already did so: Anyone who wants to know his original intentions can read his novel. A secondary problem is that the catalogue of details will make little sense to those who have not both read the book and seen the film. If Irving had treated this subject as fiction, it would have been a much more grippingly incredible story.