Can John Irving write a bad book? I don’t think he can. He is one of the few storytellers alive who I think was born to simply tell stories, and not be hyperbolic, I think he probably does it better than anyone else. I look at what he publishes, and they seem to go over well with critics and fans alike. It is the simplicity in his narratives that allow anyone who can read to enjoy his books, and more importantly appreciate them. Despite his overwhelming popularity, which scholars seem to loathe, he may be one of the best living writers we have, and The Cider House Rules is a winner on all accounts. This is a very meaty novel, more so than The World According to Garp, which I read last year and loved immensely. It is very much like a 19th century Dickens novel, rich in everything that makes a book good, which makes reading it a difficult, yet fun and rewarding task. It is also his most broadly topical, focusing on major issues such as abortion, racism, and inter-racial relationship, as well as the themes of parenthood, anger and dishonesty Irving so gracefully writes about in his books. The main action takes place between the locations of St. Cloud’s Orphanage and Ocean View Apple Orchard, both located in Maine. At St. Cloud’s, the childless, unmarried Dr. Wilbur Larch, delivers orphans from women who do cannot keep their babies. He also performs illegal, yet safe abortions as well, as long as the women know what they are doing. He sees both as The Lord’s Work, and is seen by us as a reluctant hero, willing to buck the law in order to provide a much needed service. One of the orphans, Homer Wells, who never found a foster home that lasted, is being trained to replace Dr. Larch when he is to old to perform his duties. The only problem is that Homer refuses to do abortions, finding them immoral and against his views on the soul. Despite his stubbornness, he is also a sympathetic character, and his misgivings about abortions are valid and noble. Into this conflict come Wally and Candy, a young couple who come to St. Cloud’s for an abortion. Taken by the couple, Homer agrees to work at Wally’s Family’s vast Orchard, Ocean View. Homer jumps at the chance to escape the confines of St. Clouds, but Dr. Larch is concerned that he is not making the right decision, and is worried about the fate of St. Cloud’s as he is aging. This is the set up that drives most of the novel’s action, which includes WWII a vengeful orphan out to get Homer’s love, and Larch’s battle to keep his illegal activities from costing him his job. Like most Irving books, he can make you laugh at tragedy, and cry even harder at the mistakes these fully formed characters make. Every moment of this book shines with beauty and discovery, and makes the small towns they take place in as big and as open as a great plain. Irving is simply a master, and this book is awesome.