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Acclaimed sequel to The Wapshot Chronicle. "Full of surprises...with profound good sense that approaches wisdom." --New York Times Book Review
The snow began to fall into St. Botolphs at four-fifteen on Christmas Eve. Old Mr. Jowett, the stationmaster, carried his lantern out onto the platform and held it up into the air. The snowflakes shone like iron filings in the beam of his light, although there was really nothing there to touch. The fall of snow exhilarated and refreshed him and drew him -- full-souled, it seemed -- out of his carapace of worry and indigestion. The afternoon train was already an hour late, and the snow (whose whiteness seems to be a part of our dreams, since we take it with us everywhere) came down with such open-handed velocity, such swiftness, that it looked as if the village had severed itself from its context on the planet and were pressing its roofs and steeples up into the air. The remains of a box kite hung from the telephone wires over-head -- a reminder of the year's versatility. "Oh, who put the overalls in Mrs. Murphy's chowder?" Mr. Jowett sang loudly, although he knew that it was all wrong for the season, the day and dignity of a station agent, the steward of the town's true and ancient boundary, its Gate of Hercules.
Going around the edge of the station he could see the lights of the Viaduct House, where at the very moment a lonely traveling salesman was bending down to kiss a picture of a pretty girl in a mail-order catalogue. The kiss tasted faintly of ink. Beyond the Viaduct House were the rectilinear lights of the village green, but the village itself was circular and did not conform in any way to the main road that wound seaward to Travertine, or to the railroad track, or even to the curve of the river, but to the pedestrian needs of its inhabitants, putting them within walking distance of the green. Thus it was the shape, really, of an ancient place, and seen from the air on a fairer day might have been in Etruria. Mr. Jowett could see into the windows, across from the Viaduct House and above the ship chandler's, of the Hastings apartment, where Mr. Hastings was decorating the Christmas tree. Mr. Hastings stood on a ladder, and his wife and children passed him ornaments and told him where to hang them. Then suddenly he bent and kissed his wife. It was the sum of his feeling for the holiday and for the storm, Mr. Jowett thought, and it made him very happy. He seemed to feel happiness in the stores and houses, happiness everywhere. Old Dog Tray trotted happily up the street, on his way home, and Mr. Jowett thought affectionately of the dogs of St. Botolphs. There were wise dogs, foolish dogs, blood-thirsty and thieving dogs, and as they raided clotheslines, upset garbage pails, bit the mailman and disturbed the sleep of the just, they seemed like diplomats and emissaries. They seemed, in their chaffing way, to keep the place together.
The last of the shoppers were going home, carrying a pair of mittens for the ash man, a brooch for Grandmother and a Teddy bear stuffed with sawdust for baby Abigail. Like Old Dog Tray, everybody was going home, and everybody had a home to go to. It was one place in a million, Mr. Jowett thought. Even with his pass, he had never wanted much to travel. The village, he knew, had, like any other, its brutes and its shrews, its thieves and its perverts, but like any other it meant to conceal these facts under a shine of decorum that was not hypocrisy but a guise or mode of hope. At that hour most of the inhabitants were decorating their Christmas trees. The druidical significance of bringing a green tree into the house at the solstice had certainly never crossed the minds of any of the natives, but they treated their chosen trees (at the time of which I'm writing) with more instinctive respect than is the case today. The trees were not, at the end of their usefulness, stuck into ashcans or fired into the ditch by the railroad tracks wearing a few strands of angel's hair. The men and boys burned them ceremoniously in the back yard, admiring the surge of flame and the smell of balsam smoke. People did not, as they presently would, say that the Tremaines' tree was skinny, that the Wapshots' tree had a bare place in the middle, that the Hastings' tree was stumpy and that the Guilfoyles must have suffered economic reverses, since they had only paid fifty cents for their tree. Fancy illuminations, competitiveness and disregard for the symbols involved would all come, but they would come later. The lights, at the time of which I am writing, were spare and rudimentary and the ornaments were commemorative like the table silver, and were handled respectfully, as if one were counting over the bones of the family. They were, naturally, in disrepair -- the birds without tails, the bells without clappers and the angels sometimes without wings. It was a conservatively dressed population that performed this tree-trimming ceremony. All the men wore trousers and all the women wore skirts, excepting Mrs. Wilston, who was a widow, and Alby Hooper, who was an itinerant carpenter. They had been drinking bourbon for two days and wore nothing at all.
On the ice pond -- Parson's Pond at the north end of town -- two boys were struggling to keep clear enough ice for a hockey game in the morning. They skated back and forth, pushing coal shovels ahead of them. It was an impossible task. This was clear to both of them, and yet they continued to go back and forth, toward and away from the roar of the falls at the dam, with an unaccountable feeling of eagerness. When the snow got too deep for skating ...The Wapshot Scandal. Copyright © by John Cheever. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
In this, the sequel to The Wapshot Chronicle, we find that the Wapshots have drifted away from St. Botolphs, their once estimable and self-important family image under threat of discredit from the I.R.S. -- Honora has never paid income tax. The family members are set adrift into the humiliating abyss of adultery, into the company of fellow hapless prisoners of human nature, and into confrontation with themselves.
About the author
A writer for most of his life and best known for his short stories, John Cheever was born in Quincy, Massachusetts, in 1912. He published his first short story at the age of 17 and, in 1979, was the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for his collection of short stories, The Stories of John Cheever. He was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1951, a Howells Medal Award (awarded by the National Academy of Arts and Letters for The Wapshot Scandal) in 1964, and winner of the 1978 American Book Award for The Stories of John Cheever. His later novels include Bullet Park (1969), Falconer (1977), and Oh What a Paradise It Seems (1982). The Journals of John Cheever was published posthumously in 1991. He died in 1982, at the age of 70.
John Cheever is considered a master storyteller and one of America's most original writers. He is also deemed a virtuoso of characterization; the characters that people his works of fiction, short stories, and novels alike are a unique blend of individual glory and eccentricity. He was insatiably fascinated with the dynamics of human relationships and the unique responses of ordinary individuals to the shifting, if otherwise commonplace, entanglements of life. The Wapshot Chronicle and its sequel, published two years later, The Wapshot Scandal, illustrate the breadth and scope of Cheever's vision, his interests, and his narrative style.
Posted April 2, 2011
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