Month: December 2017

“Wapshot Scandal” by John Cheever

wapshotA 1960s novel, today it reads fresh and powerful.  Parts of it describe material that was likely shocking fifty years ago, but now is folded well into our huge complicated mix of what is socially and/or morally acceptable – or more cynically, what isn’t?

Cheever’s narrative about domestic America is like Updike on weed. It’s wild and often sad and then entertaining and always visionary. The glowing introduction by Dave Eggers describes Cheever’s fictional skills and mentions how much humor can be found in his scenes. Any randomly picked Cheever sentence can be a trove of insight, clever turn of phrase, or vivid imagery.

The book calls for a second reading in the future, a writer’s examination of technique. First time around, the read was for story, which seemed like a chain of episodes filled with human error, sexual misdirection, alcoholism, and misery. The events involve characters from the Boston-like suburb of “St. Botolphs.”

The centerline of the narrative is often without clear direction, and what begins as a focused report about this small community later breaks apart and rambles into tangential sub-stories occurring in distant cities and countries. In Chapter 31, the loop comes back to start when a train again arrives. It’s Christmas time and people begin to return home. A central figure is dying. Circles are closing. The sentences are sublime; someone is showing us how to end a novel. Angels come to the gates.

As an aside, I haven’t read (nor plan to) the prequel “Wapshot Chronicle,” which covers the St. Botolphs folks in their earlier years.

 

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Lucia Berlin

luica berlinThis is a collection of short stories I was led to by a comment from Thomas McGuane on NewYorker.com, who names her as his favorite short story writer. I’d never heard of her (she is gone now, 1936- 2004). I wonder again, as with Joy Williams, how I ever missed her stories.

She was writing back in the Sixties and is a child of the Sixties and the Seventies and Eighties as well. She was a visionary, writing into the early 21st century, who never compromised her simple and realistic phrasing and eye for character detail.

Her picaresque life took her all over the world, though most of her sensibilities are primarily Southwest USA with a tablespoon of Mexico and Chile. She flew under the radar until finally getting published in national magazines. She was a sensation and a confirmation of what could be called honest art. In her lifetime, her reputation soared only among those in the know. So it’s good to see her books re-released so all readers can enjoy, as I have, the amazement of discovering terrific, unsung writers of our time.