The Wapshot Chronicle

by John Cheever

It is so fitting that this book quite literally falls to pieces as I read it, because its narrative isn't rooted along any one timeline, & the chapters are not presented chronologically. A reader could easily tolerate the disintegration of the binding, a shuffling of the pages into a different order, and still get the same story! Kind of cool, actually. This presentation is also interesting in light of the word "Chronicle" (with time in its root) in the title of this book.

The Wapshot Chronicle is a pretty easy and entertaining read, and it's also New England literature to its core—for those of you in the market for either of those kinds of book. In a way, John Cheever's writing reminds me a lot of John Irving's. The story is a tender, comic, eye-for-the-absurd telling of generations of a quirky old New England family. There is pathos here, and the characters—though multifarious & diverse—are each distinctly rendered.

For a book written in the 1950s, The Wapshot Chronicle presents one of the most open and not-too-harshly judgmental portrayals of homosexuality that you'll ever see in print from that era. The subject comes up a number of times and is never given surface treatment. It is examined openly, it is represented in more than one character, and the subtle differences in its manifestation across various age groups & situations are exposed. About the worst the author labels homosexuality is "unsavory," and while he goes so far as to encourage one to skip reading portions of the book that deal with it if they be "disinterested," note that he does not forbear writing about it. From what we know about the author today, this is no doubt John Cheever's battle with self playing out in the pages of his own fiction writing. Memorable for its anachronistic equanimity alone is The Wapshot Chronicle's great allegorical line about gay people: "He did not want to be a cart horse, but he did not want to see them exposed to cruelty." Daring stuff for the 1950s, I tell you! It is a portrayal that struggles to be loving but ultimately achieves it.