The Wapshot Chronicle
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The Wapshot Chronicle

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3.76 of 5 stars 3.76  ·  rating details  ·  3,410 ratings  ·  172 reviews
When The Wapshot Chronicle was published in 1957, John Cheever was already recognized as a writer of superb short stories. But The Wapshot Chronicle, which won the 1958 National Book Award, established him as a major novelist.

Based in part on Cheever’s adolescence in New England, the novel follows the destinies of the impecunious and wildly eccentric Wapshots of St. Botolp...more
Paperback, 368 pages
Published June 28th 2011 by Harper Perennial Modern Classics (first published 1957)
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Mike Lindgren
It's gonna happen sometime, people, no matter how you may dread it. Yes, I am referring to my long-planned, heavily-unanticipated, as-yet-unwritten, irritatingly irrelevant monograph on John Cheever, wherein I single-handedly return him to his proper place in the first rank of American novelists. Due in equal parts to Seinfeld and postmodernism, Cheever has become little more than a punch line: a sad symbol of dated postwar suburban cocktail-party angst… well, think again, bitches! The Wapsho...more
Elizabeth (Alaska)
This moves along with humor and old-fashioned New Englandness (is that a word?) and I expected to give it a solid four stars. But the ending made my heart sing and I will not feel stingy.

I quibbled with Cheever off and on in this. There are two aging/elderly female characters who are single, wealthy, use that wealth to wield power, and wish to live in a chaste world. Well, almost. Honora Wapshot wants to leave her wealth to her nephews, but only if they produce sons. In any case, I could not re...more
Phil
First off, this is not my sort of topic for a book. Waspy New England families of a bygone era? Blech blahh! Second of all, it doesn't matter when the prose is so lovely and vivid. Cheever manages to make otherwise boring crap sound beautiful. And out of the random doings of a family in a New England port town emerge many of the problems and themes universal to families, blah blah blah. But then out of nowhere, you see through the character's mundane workaday into what makes them tick. Cheever n...more
Drew
Cheever's sensory descriptions in this book made me nostalgic for things I've never even experienced. E.g. this whale of a sentence:

"The attic was a fitting place for these papers, for this barny summit of the house--as big as a hayloft--with its trunks and oars and tillers and torn sails and broken furniture and crooked chimneys and hornets and wasps and obsolete lamps spread out at one's feet like the ruins of a vanished civilization and with an extraordinary spiciness in the air as if some ei...more
Judith Hannan
Have you ever met someone who is particularly striking or beautiful but when you pick apart all their features they don't add up to your definition of attractiveness. Maybe their lips are thin and you associate that with being cruel. Maybe their nose is off-center or their eyes too close. Pointy chin, rough skin, thick shins--it shouldn't add up but it does. Tne Wapshot Chronicle was a glorious read, but if you analyze all its separte pieces it doesn't seem as if it should. Set in a Massachusett...more
Elizabeth
I was hesitant to begin reading Cheever (I have no idea why I believed his fiction wouldn't interest me), and even more skeptical about starting with a novel rather than his more well-regarded short stories. However, this novel was nothing short of excellent, and makes me even more excited to turn to his short fiction. The Wapshot Chronicle tells the tale of a single family's existence in and around St. Botolph's, a fishing village on the northern coast of Massachusetts. The novel focuses most h...more
Veronica
Sep 05, 2011 Veronica rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Veronica by: Modern Library's 100 Best Novels
Set in the fictional seaside town of St. Bostolphs, Massachusetts, we meet the Wapshot family. Written with such flair, we get to know many of the Wapshots at a deep level and wonder if we haven’t met them all personally at some of our own family gatherings.

The Wapshots face birth and death, financial crises and recoveries, sexual abstinence and experimentation and deal with the matters of life in their individual manners.

The eldest son of Leander, Moses is most like his father and travels to Wa...more
El
The "chronicle" here is the story of Captain Leander Wapshot and his sons, Coverly and Moses, and their lives on the New England coast. Parts of the story are told through Leander's diary, though other chapters are written as flashes, like pieces of short stories. This is Cheever's first novel, being a short story writer first so an entire novel being written in that format is not particularly surprising. It often reminded me of, ugh, Sinclair Lewis, or, double-ugh, Sherwood Anderson, but for a...more
Jesse
Cheever takes a velvet hammer to the institution of the Olde New England Family, with a case study of the Wapshots, a family with few skills or resources for functioning in modern society. Some shakeups at home lead to them finally getting properly injected into the modern American bloodstream, after a car crash victim upsets the ruling order of the house. Patriarch Leander is first to crumble, falling victim to his domineering Aunt, who tries to turn the family home into a bed and breakfast and...more
Darwin8u
"Man is not simple. Hobgoblin company of love always with us."

The Wapshot Chronicle is a twin Bildungsroman of sons Moses and Coverly, framed by the letters, journaling, and loneliness of their father Leander. It is a crazy beautiful 20th Century Great Expectations-like novel of a family's depth and breadth, its secrets and its flaws. The two brothers are saddled with the albatross and obligation to insure ensure that Old Honora’s keeps paying the bills (future) for the boys and (current) for th...more
Colin
Many people complain about the causality/continuity issues in this book... doubtless Cheever wrote much more than was included in the final draft of the novel... moreover, one of the central issues in "The Wapshot Chronicle" is not simply time, but how individuals and families evolve in relation to time and space. Both of the Wapshot boys must leave their familiar space and venture to places where their identity as Wapshot's is without its usual cloak of history rooted in their ancestral hometow...more
Myles
Everyone says the contents of this book—not to mention Cheever’s other attempts at long form narrative— are botched amalgamations, tenuously unified by exceptional vignettes and shorts. I’m not going to contest that, but I am going to contest whether that’s a bad thing. The Wapshot Chronicle is a strange tasting menu of moods and voices and its inattention to an overarching plot—damn it, this book wanders—makes it an unpredictable journey, but it is also a delightful one.

Each moment is aptly pre...more
Justin Evans
So, there are two types of card games. One you play usually as an adult, and each hand has an effect on the following hand. You know, you keep score and there's an ultimate goal. Then there are the games you play, usually as a kid, where each hand stands completely on its own. No scoring. No advantage to winning a hand. And this book is like the second. If you're not really involved in the hand you're playing/chapter you're reading, there's no reason to pay any attention whatsoever, because the...more
Erring Wildly
Excellent book. Cheever's origins as a short story writer really come through. This was his first novel. Every line is tight, perfectly worded, frothing over with emotion, never melodramatic.

This is one of those books that you have a hard time explaining to your friends. It's about a traditional New England family, you'll say. What happens to them? Well, the kids move out and get married and have troubles, and the older ones stay and have troubles, then it ends, and it is amazing.

Hard to swallow...more
Christian Engler
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 l...more
Jesse Kraai
I see a short story writer trying to jump a weight class, using books like Winesburg, Ohio as his template.

The beginning is strong, the characters are interconnected in time and place. And though we get the disjointed point of view shifts - that characterize the entire book, the reader can say that it is all about the Wapshots; the Wapshot family is the protagonist. Many lovely descriptions and sentences here.

Then people leave. They are off doing things that have nothing to do with their home an...more
Malati
This was the first Cheever book I"ve read and I don't think it'll be my last. I'm so glad my book club opened my eyes to him. Like others, I did not think his exploration of the WASPy world of New England would appeal to me. However, he uses this very distinct setting to tell a story that is quite universal. It is about human nature and human relationships. It is about families, brotherhood, growing old, sexual boundaries, gender and societal expectations. It is about growing up and growing apar...more
Sara
There are some serious problems with the male side of the Wapshot clan. But I could never quite tell if the author realized that or not. I bought the book because I've loved Cheever's short fiction that I've read and my edition has a saucy, Mad Men inspired cover I couldn't resist. Cheever inspires in me a similar guilt that Updike and Roth do, in that I enjoy them despite myself. As someone who considers herself a feminist (and doesn't consider that some sort of hex either), their portrayals of...more
Stephanie
Meh. That is all the emotion with which this book left me. Somewhere I read that Cheever was heavily inspired by James Joyce, and it is so, so obvious here. I don't mean that in a good way either.

Cheever is not a novelist, and it is quite apparent. He is a short story writer who wanted to jump ship for novels, but this book is nothing more than a short story that is about 200 pages too long. I got bored more times than I can count.

Aside from that, he is a good writer. The book flows well, and he...more
Lobstergirl
Apr 14, 2009 Lobstergirl rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: Rod Blagojevich
Shelves: fiction
Not at all what I expected; yes, there are WASPs committing adultery (some of them), but not at suburban cocktail parties, and the WASPs are poor and live on a farm in a small town. They swim in rivers and swimming holes rather than backyard pools. The men are fuelled by testosterone and the women by anger and righteousness, yet these are enchanting characters in an eccentric family and it's impossible not to like them. The book has many hilarious passages. Sometimes I was reminded of Gabriel Ga...more
Werebot
Dec 14, 2007 Werebot rated it 3 of 5 stars Recommends it for: disaffected New Englanders.
I love Cheever's short stories, so I was really looking forward to this. It somehow seemed disjointed to me. Even though the Modern Library considered it one of the best novels of the 20th century, I think I'll stick to the short stuff, which I still love dearly.
Tim Weed
This book got off to a slow start for me, and pretty far into it I was inclined to think that Cheever was a better short story writer than a novelist. There was something a little too cute for my taste about the first part of the book, as if the eccentricity of the characters, their quirkiness, was what was going to carry the book rather than the sure grip of a dramatic narrative unfolding. That got better, and my opinion changed. The second half of the book was excellent, a page turning account...more
Christopher
Ah New England...

This is the book Jonathan Richman would have written if he was born at the turn of the twentieth century... and if he was a writer... and a drunk.

Weirdly recommended.
Peter
Not what I expected, lots better. Cheever can write fine sentences, I did expect this, and he delivers in spades. The man didn't scuffle under William Shawn for nothing, although unlike many of the others, Cheever escaped with his sense of humor intact. I also expected Cheever to describe lives of quiet desperation and the accumulation of failures and all of the other mid-century spiritual ailments, and he does do this, some. But more than anything, this is a book where he unwinds one fantastic...more
Alia S
"On beaches the joy and gall of perpetual youth. Even today. Smell east wind. Hear Neptune's horn. Always raring to go. Pack sandwiches. Bathing suit. Catch ramshackle bus to beach. Irresistible. In blood perhaps. Father read Shakespeare to waves. Mouthful of pebbles. Demosthenes?"

* * * * *

I'd never read Cheever (not even his short stories), and like a lot of people was put off by the Wapshot jacket copy's misguided emphasis on "quintessential" fishing villages (???) and "upper-middle-class subu...more
Jonathan
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Realini
After reading The Wapshot Chronicle, my list of to-read books (from The Modern Library Top 100) has only 16 books left on it. If I take out Ulysses and Pale Fire, there would only be 14 left.

I would then move on to The Guardian Top 100, where I still have about 30-40, out of which I still don't think I will find writers like Juan Rulfo, Elsa Morante.


Coming back to The Wapshot Chronicle, I must say that this is book that I thoroughly enjoyed.

"The Wapshot Chronicle follows the tortuous circuit tw...more
David
I read this book almost entirely on a round-trip bus excursion to Cincinnati. I love kooky characterizations and GoBus (11 bucks?! C'mon, that's great).

The Wapshot Chronicle concerns the Wapshot Family, residents of a fake but familiar Massachusetts town. They're well-off and traditional but also buffeted by financial worries, shipwrecks, and unconvential adventures/desires. I think it's what we'd call ribald, meaning that many of the scenes are kind of funny-sexy and don't usually verge into in...more
Tfitoby
well it wasn't what i expected or hoped for. i wanted some of that postwar suburban cocktail party angst and what i got was something quite different. a nice surprise but really not what i was looking for when choosing to read my first cheever.

the wapshots are a fabulous bunch, a truly interesting family whose lives are highly entertaining to read about whether it be a walk in the woods or a long standing family argument. it is cheever who manages to create this magic and for that i am looking f...more
Paul
Mar 23, 2009 Paul rated it 3 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2009
John Cheever is probably the best short-story writer I've ever read. Better than Carver, better than Ford, better (though, sure, different) than Barthelme. Maybe Carver's stuff resonates with me more strongly, but on a sentence/word level, just pure skill, Cheever tops anyone I've read. That said, this novel didn't really do anything for me. Like Oh, What a Paradise it Seems, which I actually thought was bad, the novel fell far short of any short story I've read. The first half of Wapshot was a...more
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John Cheever was an American novelist and short story writer, sometimes called "the Chekhov of the suburbs" or "the Ovid of Ossining." His fiction is mostly set in the Upper East Side of Manhattan, the suburbs of Westchester, New York, and old New England villages based on various South Shore towns around Quincy, Massachusetts, where he was born.

His main themes include the duality of human nature:...more
More about John Cheever...
The Stories of John Cheever Falconer Bullet Park Oh What a Paradise It Seems Cheever Reads: The Swimmer

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“I have spent considerable of my leisure time in this past year in the improvement of my mind but I find that much of it has been spent extremely foolish and that walking in the pasture at dusk with virtuous, amiable and genteel young ladies I experience none but swineish passions. I commenced to read Russell’s Modern Europe sometime last summer.” 4 likes
“These napkins are more holy than righteous,” Mrs. Wapshot said, and most of her conversation at table was made up of just such chestnuts, saws and hoary puns.” 2 likes
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