52. The Wapshot Chronicle, John Cheever (1957)

John Cheever is without doubt the greatest short story writer in the English language – greater even than Saki and Maugham. The collected Stories of John Cheever is never out of reach, and every time I dip into it I come away feeling as if I’ve been hypnotised. The stories seem slight in themselves, but they achieve more in six to eight pages than most novelists pack into 300. If you haven’t read them, do so immediately. Cheever’s novels are a more difficult proposition – he found the long form problematic because, quite simply, he was a raging alcoholic. I love them all, but I recognise that some are less successful than others. The Wapshot Chronicle, however, is a masterpiece. On the surface it’s the story of a rather eccentric New England family, the Wapshots, and their various triumphs and tragedies. But it’s also a compelling excavation of Cheever’s own tortured self, his difficult relations with his family and above all his deeply conflicted sexuality. It’s one of those books that is hard to get into – for the first few pages you think ‘what on earth is going on?’ – and then (for me, at least) it all clicks into place. I would also recommend the sequel, The Wapshot Scandal, and Cheever’s very peculiar, very moving last novel Falconer. And if you’re looking for a real horror story, read the brilliant biog by Blake Bailey.

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2 Comments

Filed under My top 100 novels

2 responses to “52. The Wapshot Chronicle, John Cheever (1957)

  1. David Benedict

    Hands up: always meant to read Cheever, never have. Will now. But really: the greatest short story writer in the English language… greater than Alice Munro, Lorrie Moore, William Trevor…?

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