Set in the fictional seaside town of St. Bostolphs, Massachusetts, we meet the Wapshot family. Written with such flair, we get to know many of the Wapshots at a deep level and wonder if we haven’t met them all personally at some of our own family gatherings.
The Wapshots face birth and death, financial crises and recoveries, sexual abstinence and experimentation and deal with the matters of life in their individual manners.
The eldest son of Leander, Moses is most like his father and travels to Washington, DC to prove himself to his Aunt Honora. Things don’t go quite as he planned and he ends up in a dilapidated castle of a distant cousin where he meets his somewhat unstable, future wife, Melissa Scaddon.
Moses brother, Coverly, feels he does not measure up to his father’s expectations and questions his future and sexual identity. It’s believed that Coverly’s character was autobiographical. Coverly sets off to New York to satisfy his Aunt Honora and fails a battery of personality tests given during a job prospect from a husband of a cousin. He studies and becomes a civil servant traveling far and away from his comfort zone. He meets his future wife, Betsey MacCaffery, they marry, she has a miscarriage, they separate, they reunite and have a family expected, son.
Rosalie Young enters the Wapshot’s home after a fatal accident takes the life of her date and leaves her in need of care. Mrs. Wapshot takes her under her wing and enjoys nursing her back to health. Rosalie and Moses begin an affair, witnessed first hand by Aunt Honora (you really need to read the book!), who orders the sons out into the world to prove their mettle with the threat of withholding the family’s financial support. Rosalie eventually leaves with her condescending parents and rebukes Mrs. Wapshot after she makes a unfavorable remark about Rosalie’s mother. I really wanted to get to know more of this character, but her departure was fitting with the flow of the story.
There were many more quite interesting characters; Aunt Honora, an opinionated spinster, Reba Heaslip, a local anti-vivisectionist, Justina Scaddon, an eccentric control freak. Cheever managed to make each so familiar in just a few short paragraphs.
Sometimes, walking on a beach and when there is no house near, we smell late in the day, on the east wind, lemons, wood smoke, roses and dust; the fragrance of some large house that we must have visited as children, our memories are so dim and pleasant–some place where we wanted to remain and couldn’t–and the farm had come to seem like this for Rosalie.
Her life had been virtuous, her dedication to innocence had been unswerving and she had been rewarded with a vision of life that seemed as unsubstantial as a paper match in a fairly windy place.
The only thing I found a tad cumbersome were the chapters that captured diary entries. While trying to convey what a person may have actually written in such a journal, it just fell a little flat and took away from the book’s overall continuity.
How could anyone not enjoy spending time with Mr. Cheever. I’d love to listen to him spin some yarns sitting on a beach with the glorious sound of waves lapping the shore.
My rating for The Wapshot Chronicle is a 9 out of 10.
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