Thursday, 20 January 2011

Sex, Death and Boredom: The Wapshot Scandal Review

Hot on the heels of my first Cheever experience I have now devoured his other Wapshot novel - published almost 10 years later: the Wapshot Scandal.

A sequel? Of sorts: Leander is now dead although a lost chapter from his journal reemerges to give us a reminder of his struggles and demons. His wife also gone, mentioned as an afterthought. The senior materfamilias(? though she's not actually the mother) Honora is still here as are the separate but equally unhappy brothers : Coverly and Moses. Though there is no narrative link really.

I must say the vibe of this book is very different the Chronicle had a turn of the nineteenth century early American Capitalist feel to it - even some earlier periods with modernity only being introduced through the last chapters. This is a mid-twentieth century work in every way: the Nuclear race, suburbia, adultery, consumerism are all dissected with minute accuracy.

I would also say the influence of Cheever's short fiction is more apparent here. Though there is some continuity in character and lightly in plot - the development of a torrid but sad affair, the pursuit of a tax dodger - essentially each chapter reads like a set piece short work in itself. Nothing so wrong with that because what it does do is give minor characters incredible depth in their moment in the sun: Dr Cameron the sinister scientist who is Coverly's boss at a nuclear development site, Emile the young delivery boy who Moses bored and alienated wife takes an interest in.

But above all the writing. The writing is consistently magnificent - I found myself highlighting passages. There is humour throughout and it does in its own way paint an accurate picture of American life at that time. But I think death is the continual theme here. It begins and ends with a death. The last phrase in the work is "nothing at all". All characters are struggling with the fact that one day they will not be here and react to it in different ways.

The classical references are less but there is an interesting portrait of post-war Italy intertwined in the work. Loads of great parts - I particularly enjoyed the disintegration of Coverly's wife Betsey the roots of which were laid in the earlier book. But you could choose any piece - I have to say for its differences I think I preferred this work.
And the Scandal? Difficult to say it could be one of many things but taken apart they look so minor yet heart breakingly major in their consequences.

But let the writing speak for itself:
"The pain in her chest seemed to spread and sharpen in proportion to her stubborn love of the night, and she felt for the first time in her life an unwillingness to leave any of this...."

Now if only Amazon would deliver his collection of short stories.

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