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Posted July 31, 2011
Who really cares?
One sign of even a modestly good book is that you care about what happens to the characters. The Wapshots aren't worth the time. Worse still, John Cheever appears not to have read Huckleberry Finn and noted that Mark Twain offered readers more than enough of the n-word. A little n-word-less would have been welcome in this book.
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Posted November 1, 2001
Unexpected Events Happen to Unusual Characters
Caution: The Wapshot Chronicle makes many coarse references to sex for hire. This language and the scenes described would probably earn this book an R rating if it were a motion picture. The Wapshot Chronicle is one of those big family stories that details parts of the lives of three generations, while providing a sense of those who came before. This is a family of sea-faring New Englanders who explored the far reaches of the Pacific and also produced missionaries who served in Hawaii. If you have read James Michener¿s Hawaii, you will have a picture in mind that will be accurate about the Wapshot forebearers. In the current generation, there¿s plenty of money in the hands of eccentric, elderly Cousin Honora. She provides for her cousin Leander, his wife Sarah, and their sons, Moses and Coverly. Cousin Honora does this in the spirit of honoring the family heritage, and she is quite interested in seeing the family continue on. The book focuses in on her efforts to encourage this continuity, and what resulted. John Cheever¿s greatest strength is his ability to conceive of highly original and interesting characters. In The Wapshot Chronicle, you will find two of the 20th century¿s most original fictional females, Cousin Honora and Justina Wapshot Molesworth Scadden. The men, by comparison, are pretty bland. They are so obsessed with their sexual desires and wanting to have a superior, independent position that they become predictably limited. His second greatest strength is that he is able to weave a novel out of a series of short-story-like episodes that have unexpected twists and cliff-hangers near their ends. Each is a gem, and glitters shiniest with understatement. A few words, a few concepts sketch out the beginnings of a pregnant circumstance. Then, he moves on . . . leaving you as the reader with plenty of room to imagine the actual circumstances. No two readers will describe what happens in this book the same way, because each will perceive the action to be quite different from everyone else. It is sort of like having The Lady or The Tiger continue on to a further story, but without resolving clearly which one lay behind the chosen door. Ambiguities pile atop ambiguities. The book¿s third greatest strength is an ability to use imagery to turn the same object into expressing its opposite meaning. This Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde quality imbues the book with a very deep irony seldom found in modern novels. Mr. Cheever uses names to good effect to reinforce this nuance. Clear Haven becomes anything but. The Wapshot name is traced to its Norman French roots as Vaincre-Chaud (loosely, defeating others in hot blood). The latest generation of Wapshot males is anything but that, so the name has had to change to reflect their humbler role. While the writing shines with rare beauty, the themes will often feel too trivial to be worthy of the attention lavished on them. What does it mean to be a man in a society in which women are strong, capable, and independent? Cheever seems to suggest a drone-like role like that in the beehive. Are we nothing more than our genes, our parents¿ child-rearing methods, and our environments? The characters seem to suggest that we are precisely and merely the sum of these influences. Can we accept help? The very generosity of the sharing seems to create shackles, rather than bonds of love and caring. In short, Mr. Cheever has a very jaundiced eye concerning modern humanity, and that leaves the book with a very downbeat feel. Unlike the existentialists who left us with nobility of spirit in facing meaningless events, Mr. Cheever sees nothing at all uplifting going on. You could think of this book as describing the emergence of the bland, disconnected, dependent modern city dweller. I wasn¿t persuaded by this view, and if you are like me, neither will you. I graded the book down accordingly, despite its stylistic genius. Be open to the poWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 26, 2001
What's going to happen to this family?
Perhaps you've read and loved John Cheever's famous novel 'Falconer' or dipped into his celebrated short stories. You might then want to pick up his first novel, 'The Wapshot Chronicle.' This book follows family scion Leander Wapshot's attempts to keep his dignity intact in spite of encroaching old age and the loss of his career as a seaman. Leander's two sons, Moses and Coverly, have to make their own way in Cold War America armed with the airs and attitudes of 19th century New England WASPS; their encounters are both funny and poignant. In fact, 'funny and poignant' characterizes much of Cheever's writing: he can have you chuckling at situational comedy in one instant and then ping your heart with human frailty in the next. More than just a clever satire on the 1950s, or on New Englanders, 'The Wapshot Chronicle' is a novel with depth and meaning.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 2, 2011
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