Friday, June 27, 2008
John Cheever: The Wapshot Chronicle
"Now the world is full of distractions - lovely women, music, French movies, bowling alleys and bars - but Coverly lacked the vitality or the imagination to distract himself." This is perhaps the point where pre-war modernist experimentation, political radicalism, and formalism are firmly replaced (for the better, but mostly for the worse) by style and "writerly writing," plus an upper-middle class setting and sensibility. How you feel about this book comes down to how you understand Cheever's "humanism." Cheever's breathless sentences and swift plot aim for a generic (and completely reified) humanity rather than subjective depth: his characters feel less like distinct personalities than types running through the grand motions of "humanity." As skeptical as I am of this project, it must be admitted the novel does some cultural work by processing modern topics through this generic framework, so that even when Coverly Wapshot takes courses on cybernetics and becomes a computer "Taper" for the rocket program, the novel treats Coverly no different than if he were a blacksmith in a Dickens novel. More interesting to me are the faux-experimental sections when, with the exile of his sons, old Leander Wapshot retreats entirely from modernity and begins to keep a journal in the 19th-century style: "all punctuation marks, prepositions, adverbs, articles, etc., at end of communication and urged reader to distribute same as he saw fit."