Academic journal article Hollins Critic

John Cheever and the Charms of Innocence: The Craft of the Wapshot Scandal

Academic journal article Hollins Critic

John Cheever and the Charms of Innocence: The Craft of the Wapshot Scandal

Article excerpt

These stories were no worse than the stories of talking rabbits he had been told as a boy but the talking rabbits had the charms of innocence.--The Wapshot Scandal

THE FIRST THING that should be said and not forgotten is that The Wapshot Scandal * is a very good novel, an outstanding piece of work and craft by any known standard of judgment and it is the best book John Cheever has written. Since his earlier and first novel, The Wapshot Chronicle, received the National Book Award for 1957, this means that in the world of prizes and awards and in the circles where there is jostling for the laurel wreath of Success, a game as shrill and chaotic as Drop-the-Handkerchief, it is a book and Cheever is an author who must be taken quite seriously this season. Already The Wapshot Scandal has received very good notices and reviews and, what is more important, these have been in the most prominent and choice spots, as significant as the fire hydrant in front of a fashionable restaurant where only certain shiny limousines with very special license tags are permitted to park. In the front page lead review for the Tribune (and other papers) Glenway Wescott, not only an artist himself but an arbiter with charm, influence, and definite opinions, saluted the publication of the book with high praise, seasoned with just a mere soupcon of qualification. He found in the book many of the virtues which he at once celebrates and pleads for in Images of Truth: clarity, lucidity, decorum, a fine surface of sensuous aesthetic experience supported on the firm rock strata of meaning and implication. He saw it as tragi-comic, a book thus accurately reflecting the ambivalent feelings of a man of feeling in our time. Elizabeth Janeway in the front page review of The New York Times Book Review celebrated the book chiefly in terms of anecdotes she just couldn't resist retelling and by pointing out the extremely clever and "deceptive" use of symbol and analogy employed by Cheever to give the haunting resonance of deep meaning and wide implication. The Washington Post offered its highest compliment by stating that the cosmic view of the novel, unflinching honesty lifted by the wings of hope and wisdom, was a fine example of the working philosophy of our late president. Most recently Cheever has received the mixed blessing of a Time cover story. It remains to be seen whether or not the celebrated jinx will work.

If there is any justice in this world, The Wapshot Scandal is on its way. Whether or not it climbs to a place on the best seller lists and endures there for a proper interval remains to be seen, is in the hands of Lady Luck and, of course, that vast, faceless, surging, restive mob, the reading public which, like the voting public and the razor-blade-using public, nobody really knows for sure and practically everybody mistrusts. The Wapshot Scandal may or may not sit in the spotlighted position of the best-seller list, but it does not take a gypsy to predict that the book and its author will be much discussed in the coming months, not only in cocktail parties and reading groups, but also in seminar and classroom. High time too. John Cheever has been producing honorable work for more than twenty years and from the beginning he has always threatened to become "a major writer." Perhaps he has at last earned that title. One thing we can be sure of. He has written a good book in a time when good books are few and far between. And that's a cause for celebration. It is, however, at once a better and a different book than his reviewers have allowed, and it is quite good enough to be subjected to the kind of inquisition, the rack of speculation and the thumbscrew of questions without easy answers, which only the strong and brave should be asked to endure.

   She loves the fine, the subtle, the non-cliche.... from an
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