Good night, you Princes of Maine, you Kings of New England.
I’ve been reading The Cider House Rules. Or rather, re-reading it. Has this ever happened to you? You can’t remember actually reading a book, but as you read it becomes more and more familiar, as if this is a terrain you have crossed before, but don’t actually remember traversing. Is this a sign of aging? How many books have I forgotten that I’ve read; how many memories have I forgotten I had?
Getting off track. But for some reason, The Cider House Rules is bringing back memories of high school. Perhaps because I once knew a guy who was a John Irving fan, and to this day he’s one of the only guys I know who reads fiction and we no longer talk and I miss him and I am sad about that. Perhaps because high school was when I discovered Irving, in all his funny, sick, twisted glory. Perhaps because it reminds me of that giddy feeling I used to get when I would sneak a book into my classes and read surreptitiously, most of the time unnoticed. I didn’t realize that I missed that feeling of walking around in a daze, the real world just a screen in front of you because your head is still in the book, wondering what’s happening to the characters, impatient to know what happens next. Being so immersed in a book gives daily life a brittle fakeness.
Is it a democratic society that condemns people to the accident of conception? What are we-monkeys? If you expect people to be responsible for their children, you have to give them the right to choose whether or not to have children. What are you people thinking of? You’re not only crazy! You’re ogres!
I’d forgotten how truly funny Irving is, how he can look at the utterly macabre with a wry, grimacing eye. And Homer Wells! Oh Homer, Homer. In my mind Homer Wells will forever wear the face of Tobey Maguire, which is unfortunate, since the movie (while very, very good) actually does not resemble the book at all (but the screenplay was by Irving so I have no quarrel with it). Homer, what can I say? You alternately want to hug him to your chest, this forever orphan, and then hold him at arm’s length and look at him and think ‘you strange, strange creature’. And Dr. Larch! Was any ether-imbibing, abortion-giving, revisionist historian doctor ever so lovable?
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the past. (pause for beat). Oh, who am I kidding. I think about the past a lot, all the time. More than normal people do, I’ve realized. It has been pointed out to me that my inability to let go of people who are no longer in my life and things that are no longer true — is emotionally debilitating. And I’m not sure what my being haunted by the past has to do with The Cider House Rules, but it does.
When time passes, it’s the people who knew you whom you want to see; they’re the ones you can talk to. When enough time passes, what’s it matter what they did to you?
I’ve realized that so many of the books I read eventually come to mean much more than their content. And so The Cider House Rules is about Homer Wells and Wilbur Larch and abortion and orphans and fatherhood but for me it will also always be about the dusty chalkboard smell of a Malaysian high school classroom, about a friend I lost and the kind of pain that dulls into an ache that will never go away.
Reading The Cider House Rules makes me so happy and fills me with such loss.
What is hardest to accept about the passage of time is that the people who once mattered the most to us wind up in parentheses.