Critical Context

The Cider House Rules, Irving’s sixth novel in seventeen years, moves away from some of his familiar themes while deepening his interest in the family (in many forms) as a source of strength in a fractured, frightening universe. Continuing to combine elements of Magical Realism with the great traditions of the Victorian novel, Irving uses the lore of apple growing and marketing and the graphic details of medical procedures as a solid ground upon which he places the terms of a debate concerning ethical practices and essential human needs.

While the power of love and the forces of eros remain as important elements for Irving, The Cider House Rules is a transitional work, shifting the focus of narrative consciousness from the entropic, absurdist cosmos of The World According to Garp (1978) toward the realm of the miraculous, which Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany (1989) would bring into prominence. Wilbur Larch, who knows when to break the rules, is guided by an intuitive faith in a higher set of rules that foreshadows the spiritual quest upon which Irving would enter in the latter book.