The Wasp Eater

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

William Lychack’s novel is set in Cargill Falls, Connecticut, in 1979. He depicts the place as a somewhat decayed riverside mill town using precise, realistic details. Daniel Cussler’s father, Bob, is a window washer, drinker, and philanderer. As the novel begins, he is being thrown out of the house by his wife Anna.

Anna has suffered because of her own father’s death at age forty-two when she was only six. The move her family was forced to make from a comfortable, spacious house to a dingy apartment seems to set the pattern for discomfort in her adult life. Searching for strength and stability, she had married Bob when she was eighteen.

As The Wasp Eater progresses, both Bob and Anna regress mentally and emotionally. Daniel is often shown to be the adult member of this small family. He earnestly attempts to deal with both Bob and Anna, in turn, while each parent uses the son to ease the tension as they move to end their marriage.

While the first part of the novel deals primarily with stasis, the second part offers motion. Daniel travels, at first alone to New York City, and later with his father. The second trip is seemingly a pointless meandering, but serves as a journey of male bonding, made poignant by the fact that Daniel and Bob are soon to leave each other’s life for good. The father attempts, fairly successfully, to enjoy a lifetime of shared experiences in a few last days with his son.

Lychack’s depiction of the only child’s plight in being the lonely and embarrassed outsider in an adult world is very accurate. The author also employs beautifully lyrical descriptions of persons, of places—and above all else—of human struggles with complex, often conflicting emotions.