I was led recently to reread THE CIDER HOUSE RULES by John Irving. And while I was once again seduced by Irving’s incredible skill at creating characters I would recognize if they appeared at my backdoor, and drawn almost compulsively into the lives of Doctor Wilbur Larch and his never-adopted orphan Homer Wells, there was something else that struck me this time around. Something aside from how deeply and almost reverently Irving presents these people to us couched in all their little curious quirks and idiosyncrasies. Something in addition to the rational and even-handed way in which he presents the emotionally charged issues that fall on either side of the abortion debate. And that was the oft-repeated theme throughout the novel that one should “be of use”. I found myself thinking that in terms of our place in the world, how simple is this advice, to be of use, and how satisfying. Doubtless, if I wait another ten years to reread this story again, I will find some other jewel worth keeping. Irving’s tales are so layered, not everything worth having can be had at one sitting. Still, it’s days now since I finished reading the book and that advice continues to run through my mind . . . wherever you find yourself, be of use.
Earlier this week, Colleen and I went to see "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button", the extraordinary movie based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I loved it. Colleen not s'much. (I was sitting there choked in tears at the end of the three hour film, so I only vaguely remember her saying something about "watching paint dry.") I want to see it again, so I'm trying to get the Gare Bear to go with me this weekend, but I won't be surprised if he reacts the same way Colleen did. The movie is long. And odd. It requires patience and a complete suspension of disbelief that modern audiences simply aren't trained for, so you've got to be in the right mood for it. The same is true of the short story, though the story and script have very little in common -- at least superficially. The story is very Fitzgerald (though it's not an example of his best writing, IMHO), and the setting -- Baltimore during the industrial revolution, Spanish Americ