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The Wapshot Chronicle

A book by John Cheever

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A humanistic novel that depicts the ordinariness of life and of the darkness that lies beneath.

  • Jun 23, 2013
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John Cheever's The Wapshot Chronicle, was, for me, an unfortunately underwhelming novel that was beautifully crafted. It was filled with rounded characters, a wonderful and sometimes-not-so sublime plot and filled with elegant Chekhovian descriptions of scenery that were quite picturesque. Yet, there was no knockout punch or wow factor that got a hold of me. The Wapshot Chronicle was, and I hate to say it, mediocre in its conveyance of mediocrity, softened only by occasional winsome humor that lifted me out of the dark dredges and questionable edginess of the character's personal behavior, confusion and other assorted problems. It was so reminiscent to me of the Pulitzer Prize-winng novel by Carol Shields, The Stone Diaries, another work that evokes similar feelings of mediocrity to me. While the writing in these two novels is both superb and one hundred percent pitch-perfect, there was just too much of the hum drum that overwhelmed whatever positives the author's were trying to let their readers in on. Yes, there is truth in the ordinary, and there is also remarkable extraordinariness. Some of the harshest yet most eloquent truths can come out of the Shileds and Cheever's of this world, but the primary works which have elevated them to the highest levels of global literary esteem, for me, miss the mark. Perhaps I am missing the point, for while I was not excessively excited about these two works in particular, I was absolutely in love with Penelope Mortimer's The Pumpkin Eater, a literary work and underrated classic of its time that is still in the tradition of Cheever's The Wapshot Chronicle and of The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields. The beginning of Cheever's novel starts off in the fictitious seaside village of St. Botolphs, Massachusetts, an inspired landscape from Cheever's own upbringing. Here, readers are introduced to the unique (putting it mildly) Wapshot clan: Captain Leander Washpot, his son Moses and his other son Coverly (and Coverly does cover some personal things about himself). Also introduced is Aunt Honora. They all have their own demons and are flawed to the bone due to their demons. Yet, they try to find their way the best way they know how. They are redeeming characters, just broken, fighting the world against them, and that is admirable. If you know anything about John Cheever and his personal life, The Wapshot Chronicle may not be such a surprising work, a book that did win the 1958 National Book Award. But for those who haven't read anything by him, I would probably start off with The Short Stories of John Cheever, works that are truly classic and digestible, perhaps because they are short and not depressingly drawn out as The Wapshot Chronicle regrettably is. Any novice writer world certainly gain much from Cheever's shorter works and perhaps from the novels Falconer and Bullet Park. While I hope my review does not deter some readers from picking up The Wapshot Chroinicle or forgoing John Cheever as an author altogether, I'd probably get this book from the library and save myself a couple of bucks.
A humanistic novel that depicts the ordinariness of life and of the darkness that lies beneath.

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June 23, 2013
Thanks! I tried to be honest without being disrespectful.
June 23, 2013
Good write up.
About this book


Novel by John Cheever, published in 1957 and granted a National Book Award in 1958. Based in part on Cheever's adolescence in New England, the novel takes place in a small Massachusetts fishing village and relates the breakdown of both the Wapshot family and the town. Part One focuses on Leander, a gentle ferryboat operator harried by his tyrannical wife and his eccentric sister; he eventually swims out to sea and never returns. Part Two chronicles the disastrous lives of Leander's sons, Coverly and Moses. Told in a comic rather than a tragic vein, the novel uses experimental prose techniques to convey a nostalgic vision of a lost world. A sequel, The Wapshot Scandal, was published in 1964. --The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature
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ISBN-10: 0679738991
ISBN-13: 978-0679738992
Author: John Cheever
Publisher: Vintage

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