1958 -- Wapshot Chronicle

…[I’m] pleased to say that I’ve finished a novel. At least it looks like a novel. It doesn’t look like a short story, anyhow. It’s much heavier and costs more postage.

—John Cheever, in a letter written just after completing The Wapshot Chronicle


The Wapshot Chronicle is a first novel in the sense that Brahm’s First Symphony is a first symphony.

—the novelist and critic Stephen Becker


Cheever was forty-five when received the NBA for his first novel, and he had been publishing his short stories in The New Yorker for over twenty years. His editors at the magazine had been Gus Lobrano and then William Maxwell, the latter cited in Cheever’s letters as being his inspiration for The Wapshot Chronicle and a big help: “The advice he gave me and the advice he didn’t give me was all brilliant….” The Wapshot Scandal, published six years later, was dedicated to “W.M.” — initials only, Cheever explained before the sequel’s publication, as they “represent the lack between what I write for you and what I produced. If it seems better in galleys I’ll add the illiam and the axwell.”

Cheever’s indebtedness to Maxwell may have been a little more — Maxwell was one of the NBA jurists the year The Wapshot Chronicle won — and a little less. One letter from years later has this: “Bill, after forty years, remains indecipherable. I thought I once understood him. It seemed that he was a man who mistook power for love. If you don’t grow and change he baits you; if you do grow and change he baits you cruelly.” Another letter describes Cheever’s phone call to Maxwell after finding one of his stories edited in unacceptable ways: “‘You cut that story,” I yelled, “and I’ll never write another story for you or anybody else. You can get that Godamned sixth-rate Salinger to write your Godamned short stories but don’t expect anything more out of me.”

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