It took me entirely way to long to read this book. I would go so far as saying that this is a fascinating fictional case study of an orphan and the doctor who raised him in New England. We spend the entire novel following the orphan Homer Wells and Doctor Wilbur Larch. It’s a rather plain and simple story, but the details and the little twists and turns throughout the novel create the oxymoron of an intricately simple love story. From the love of a ‘father’ to a non-nuclear family’s love for each other and the unrequited love of a childhood friend overall this is a love story and a story about the various types of love you experience through life.
Although Homer and Larch are the clear protagonists, it’s clearly a story of relationships and interactions and the various relationships love has to and within each interaction. If you ever wanted to catalogue the types of love this would be a great novel to read because I’m fairly certain they are all here, from convenience and unrequited to lust and familial. It’s hard to pinpoint which type of love Irving wants the reader to focus on, gut instinct would be either the fatherly love of Larch for Homer, or the love between Wally, Candy and Homer or even Melony’s strange interpretation of love for Homer, but I would say it was the smaller loves that truly made the novel. The unwavering love of Nurse Edna and Nurse Angela for their charges, especially Homer, and for Larch, or even Olive and Ray Kendall’s love for Wally, Homer and Candy even though they know the confusion they’re facing.
The novel started out quick and ended quick, but I got bogged down in some of the details. I was a bit worried that Irving’s descriptions were moving towards Steinbeck and Tolkien, both of which have caused me trouble in the past, but in general they were beautifully written and only occasionally bogged down in a bit too much detail. His overall writing style was fluid and readable and I liked his vocabulary.
As with the majority of novels I truly enjoyed, this was a coming of age novel. Set in a period of history I know little about (WWII) other than the basics, the novel primarily deals with what many consider the dregs of society (orphans, abortionists, and those seeking to receive abortions or abandon children). I find it interesting that Irving wrote this in the 1980s not long after Roe v. Wade (well about a decade) and that he set the novel when he did. I’m sure I could easily find an interview where he explains why he did so, but I like to think he wrote the novel in response to the increasingly vociferous feminist (pro-choice) movement and set it when he did for the numerous social movements that seem to generally take stride in and around wars (LGBT, Civil Rights, Emancipation, suffragism, to name a few). I could be completely off base, but the setting does provide the right amount of social turmoil, set in a pre-‘sexual revolution’ of the ’60s-’70s, pre-mainstream feminism, pre-Stonewall/LGBT liberation, pre-Civil Rights, but written as all of this was occurring, having just occurred.
Overall I would definitely recommend reading it and I look forward to reading Irving’s A Prayer for Owen Meany even though I have no idea what the subject is (similar to when I started this novel only knowing a film adaptation existed which a lot of people loved).