Saturday, September 20, 2014


Falconer is a 1977 novel by John Cheever, better known for his short stories. This is a story of each of us: of our wrongdoings, our punishments, and of how we cope with life.

from the back of the book:
Stunning and brutally powerful, Falconer tells the story of a man named Farragut, his crime and punishment, and his struggle to remain a man in a universe bent on beating him back into childhood. Only John Cheever could deliver these grand themes with the irony, unforced eloquence, and exhilarating humor that make Falconer such a triumphant work of the moral imagination.
Music is mentioned several times. People sing pieces of blues and bluegrass tunes a few times. There's mention of the main character hearing a piano being played, "the dreariest of the Chopin preludes -that prelude they use in murder films before the shot is fired...".

Favorite quotes:
"There is nothing on earth as cruel as a rotten marriage."
For Farragut the word "mother" evoked the image of a woman pumping gas, curtsying at the Assemblies and banging a lectern with her gavel. This confused him and he would blame his confusion on the fine arts, on Degas. There is a Degas painting of a woman with a bowl of chrysanthemums that had come to represent to Farragut the great serenity of "mother." The world kept urging him to match his own mother, a famous arsonist, snob, gas pumper and wing shot, against the image of the stranger with her autumnal and bitter-smelling flowers. Why had the universe encouraged this gap? Why had he been encouraged to cultivate so broad a border of sorrow?
I got to thinking about what works of art bring my mother to mind and what works of art evoke for me the concept of "mother". I can't think of a single famous painting that does either of these things for me. When I think of my mother, all kinds of images spring up of times when I was little (in the kitchen, in the backyard, on camping trips), times my kids were little (with her playing with them in the floor or her backyard or going with us to parks or museums), and -more painfully- these later years that were so hard for her. I don't have a painting that represents "mother" for me. There's too much packed into the word for that.

And another quote that struck me:
Farragut could see waves breaking on a white beach and the streets of a village and the trees of a forest, but why did they all stay in one room, quarreling, when they could walk to a store or eat a picnic in the woods or go for a swim in the sea? They were free to do all of this. Why did they stay indoors? Why didn't they hear the sea calling to them as Farragut heard it calling, imagine the clearness of the brine as it fanned out over the beautiful pebbles?
And this one:
He had never, that he remembered, been carried before.
Reading a book with other people, I can find out how certain parts strike others. Reading alone, I wonder if it's just me or if everyone reads a quote as I do.

It is on Time's list of "the 100 best English-language novels published since 1923," where they describe it as "A story of suffering and redemption, told in Cheever’s fullest register." Kirkus Reviews calls it "a statement of the human condition, a parable of salvation."


  1. Familiar with a few Cheever short stories but not his novels. Will put this on library list.