The first thing the reader notices in The Wapshot Chronicle is the novel’s paradoxical tone, a mix of comedy and tragedy, darkness and light. John Cheever is intent on imitating the richness and the paradoxical, unpredictable nature of life, full of joy, silliness, humor, love, hate, pain, and frustration in combination.
The lack of structure and logic in people’s lives is reflected in the structure of the novel, where narrative coherence, cause and effect, and meaning are subservient to the anecdotal. Just as in real life the significance of events is not always immediately clear or indeed remains obscure forever, the interpretation of what befalls Cheever’s characters is often left to the reader. The narrator’s whimsical, capricious, and arbitrary presence may be seen as analogous to God’s role in people’s lives—if one thinks of the deity as one who determines the flow of events without reference to justice, logic, or clarity. The narrator in The Wapshot Chronicle reports, sometimes with tongue in cheek; the narrator does not steer the characters from one well-structured event to the next.
A central theme of the novel is what life may mean—what people are to learn from the sum of their experiences and how they are to react to turns of events that they do not expect and over which they have no control. The Wapshot Chronicle ends with the touching description of Leander’s funeral, to which his sons have returned to honor him in his hometown of St. Botolphs....
(The entire section is 624 words.)