It’s interesting given how both omnipresent, but relatively non-famous a lot of John Cheever novels are. His two big novels, The Wapshot Chronicle and The Wapshot Scandal are well-known and one won the Pulitzer, but I have never heard of anyone reading them. In school, I only ever read his short stories. I’ve read three of his novels now, and this is the best of the bunch so far.
It’s interesting how many writers definitely, without a doubt, ripped off Cheever, and especially this novel. We are in the suburbs, and we know it’s definitely the suburbs, because are taken through a small geographic journey early in the first chapter, and we see the different houses in the neighborhood, and most importantly, we see their sizes, amenities, and prices. From there, we eventually get to meet some of the residents. We spend a lot of time with one family, learn about their milquetoast marriage, and spend a lot of time pondering their stranger malingering illness their son is going through. Dad is convinced it’s mono, but mom is unsure.
But we know from the back of the book that the new neighbor, Paul Hammer, has moved into the neighborhood, bought his mother’s old house, and begun poisoning the boy.
The novel is funny and absolutely absurd. The plot is told seriously, but not taken seriously. So the effect is both farcical and almost post-modern — with narrative dipping in and out of the heads of different characters. Ultimately it lands on the fractured comic.