Wapshot Chronicle

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Novel by John Cheever, published in 1957.

The quaint, rather run-down old fishing town of St. Botolphs, Mass., is the home of the eccentric Wapshot family. Its senior members are the cousins Leander and Honora. In his old age Leander operates a decrepit ferryboat to a nearby island tourist park (until his second wife, Sarah, renovates it as “The Only Floating Gift Shoppe in New England"), and keeps a laconic journal with reminiscences about his raffish life, until one day he swims out from shore, never to return. The diminutive Honora, possessed of a leonine face, feuds with Leander, whose house and boat she owns, but is fond of his sons, Moses and Coverly. In time both young men leave home to seek their fortunes. Moses, in picaresque style, gets a fine post in a secret government agency until ousted as a security risk because of his liaison with a woman of erratic behavior. He then obtains an executive position in New York City and becomes the second husband of Melissa, the ward of his quirky relative, the misanthropic Justina Wapshot Molesworth Scaddon. Coverly follows a simpler path as the husband of Betsy, an initially pleasant young woman from Georgia, but their marriage also appears unpromising as she is left friendless during their life on a Midwestern military base where he has found a job.

The Wapshot Scandal, a sequel, published in 1964, continues the family saga after the deaths of Leander and Sarah. Honora, who has grown more eccentric over the years, throws all her mail unopened into the fireplace and so has never paid income taxes. When approached by a government agent, she flees to Italy but is relieved to be extradited home. In time she drinks and starves herself to death. Meanwhile Coverly and Betsy continue in their unhappy marriage, while Moses and Melissa drift into even greater instability and inconstancy. Melissa takes a young grocery boy as lover and in a fantastic sequence of events they go to live together in Italy. Moses finds what comfort he can in alcohol and copulation with the widow Willston of St. Botolphs for, like his brother, he has drifted back to their ancestral hometown.

Subjects: Literature.

Reference entries

John Cheever (1912—1982) American short-story writer and novelist

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