Friday, 18 August 2000

John Cheever: The Wapshot Scandal (1959)

Edition: Vintage, 1998
Review number: 578

In the second half of The Wapshot Chronicle, the members of the Wapshot family central to the story had mostly died or moved away from the small New England town of St Botolphs. The Wapshot Scandal continues the story of Miles and Coverley Wapshot, the brothers who have moved away, and of their great aunt Honora, who remains. The town itself is much less important than in the other novel, except as the place which formed the personalities of the brothers, which meant that I found the sequel more accessible and enjoyable than the original.

The outside world makes its way into St Botolphs, too, as Honora is discovered by the IRS to have paid no taxes for many years; she flees to Europe. The Wapshots are no longer in their place, and it is the bewildered manner in which they try to make sense of the world that provides the charm of this novel. Coverley becomes involved with the Unamerican Activities Committee, and Miles has to face up to his wife's infidelity, so there is much to bewilder them.

The reason that this seems to work better, to me at least, is htat the descriptions of the town and what happened there - the parade which begins The Wapshot Chronicle, for example - tries hard to be amusing, sophisticated about the unsophisticated. Here, the people are more important, and less effort is made to describe their backgrounds at length.

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