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Irving novel questions how we define family

John Irving's The Cider House Rules is a sprawling novel that follows Homer Wells, who is born in the 1920s at an orphanage in Maine and never adopted. Many pregnant women come to the orphanage for help with unwanted pregnancies. Some come seeking illegal abortions and others come to deliver their babies and leave them behind. The book is about many things, including how our experiences shape us, how we define family and how we decide what is ethical.

In this edition of the Talk of Iowa Book Club, host Charity Nebbe explores the book's themes with a panel of expert readers.


  • Loren Glass, professor and chair of the Department of English at the University of Iowa.
  • Emily Wentzell, anthropologist of health care and gender, author of Collective Biologies: Healing Social Ills through Sexual Health Research in Mexico
  • Rachel Mans McKenny, author of the 2022 All Iowa Reads Adult Selection The Butterfly Effect
Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa
Matthew was a producer for IPR's River to River and Talk of Iowa