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A Letter From Falconer Prison

Falconer is an unusual novel.

It’s funny. It’s disturbing. It’s contemplative. It’s like a mix of Catch 22, Deliverance, and One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. To break that down a little further, it has the humor of Catch 22, the graphic, nasty stuff of Deliverance, and the “captivity” elements of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.

And I love the humor. One of my favorite surprises in a novel is unexpected humor.

This passage from Falconer is a letter that the protagonist, Farragut, is writing to his girlfriend from prison:

“You are not the most beautiful woman I have ever known, but four of the great beauties I have known died by their own hand and while this does not mean that all great beauties I have known have killed themselves, four is a number to consider. I may be trying to explain the fact that while your beauty is not great, it is very practical. You have no nostalgia. I think nostalgia a primary female characteristic and you have it not at all. You have a marked lack of sentimental profoundness, but you have a brightness, a quality of light, that I have never seen equaled….Your physical coordination in athletics can be very depressing. You have to throw me a tennis game and you can even beat me at horseshoes…”

That’s dry humor, very reminiscent of Joseph Heller’s style in Catch 22.

Problem with this novel is, though, that you’ll go from a paragraph like that to, a few pages later, reading a graphic, detailed prison sex scene or a feline genocide. Did I just say “feline genocide?” Yes I did.

I feel like I need a mental flush after reading parts of this novel. Onward I go, though.

Any thoughts on that excerpt?

8 Comments Post a comment
  1. You’re going to need to see a therapist after you finish these books.


    March 22, 2012
    • It’s true. I need to find a happy place.


      March 22, 2012
  2. Teresa #

    Yeow! I read this one next. At least you have prepared me.


    March 22, 2012
  3. I’ll go out on a limb, and try to offer some comments on this excerpt, even though I have not read Falconer—only Cheever’s collected short stories.

    I’ve come to see Cheever as a very subtle but astute social critic. Many of his characters represent, at least to me, aspects of American culture. Here we have Farragut in prison—an imprisonment imposed through his own devices? More interesting in this excerpt, though, is his girlfriend. She is “not the most beautiful woman” he has known, the others, all beautiful, have killed themselves. Do we, as Americans, destroy what is beautiful for the sake of the practical? “. . . while your beauty is not great, it is very practical.” We also know she has “no nostalgia,” also a very American trait. We have a tendency to gloss over the unpleasant aspects of our own history, denying culpability for some of the horrendous crimes which have created our nation. And Farragut finds nostalgia a feminine trait, not surprising in a country that for so long repressed women’s rights, and for which masculine characteristics are the sine qua non of life. And yet, for all that, Farragut finds in her “a brightness, a quality of light, that I have never seen equaled.” For all her/our destructiveness, for all our Philistinism, we still have a quality which shines. America, for Cheever, is not simplistic, or monolithic. There is always a goodness mixed in with the bad. But will the goodness win in the end? For all Cheever’s dark views of his own land, there is also a very strong streak in his writing (at least in some of his short stories) of an unconquerable optimism. It doesn’t show very often, but when it does it shines brightly. So perhaps the last metaphor in your excerpt, that of throwing a game of tennis for him, or of her winning at horseshoes, indicates the strength of her character, one that will not be subverted by Farragut.

    I offer these comments with a bit of trepidation, knowing that trying to base such comments on a very short excerpt taken out of context may be completely misleading. So I offer them with a caveat, in the hopes that it may help you a bit with understanding Cheever, but also that my comments won’t obfuscate.


    March 22, 2012
    • Thanks for the comments Bruce. You’re probably not far off. I don’t much about Cheever other than this book, and of course the Seinfeld episode, so I can’t really agree or disagree with your connections. But they make sense to me.

      A lot of the writing in Falconer is that style. Sort of dry, satirical, cutting.


      March 22, 2012

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Don’t Get Divorced Like This | 101 Books
  2. Book #39: Falconer | 101 Books

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