The story opens on Independence Day in St. Botolphs, a declining New England seaport on a silted-up river, where live the descendants of Ezekiel, the 17th century progenitor of the present-day Wapshot clan. Honora, the wealthiest member of the family, sends her nephews, Moses and Coverly, out into the world to earn their inheritance by getting jobs and producing children. The death of their father, Leander, the visionary center of the book, brings Coverly, now a father himself, back for the funeral on another Fourth of July, which closes the action of the plot.
The lyric contents of Leander’s journal entries, which celebrate the joys and significance of the town’s Puritan traditions and sense of the past and his appreciation of nature, are contrasted with the vagaries of modern life as experienced by the boys. The follies of contemporary existence are counterpointed against the deliberateness and ceremoniousness of life in St. Botolphs. Lost innocence, human loneliness, and corruption in the modern world are all redeemed, even if only momentarily, through Cheever’s lyric vision of life.
The novel does not ignore the dark side of human existence, however, and its lyricism is underscored by a sense of loss and corrupted innocence. Even the episodic nature of the narrative, which has bothered critics of the novel, contributes to its fragmentary sense of reality, and the book’s nostalgia is rescued from sentimentality by Cheever’s...
(The entire section is 520 words.)