Reviews

Falconer, by John Cheever

eiseneisen's review against another edition

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3.0

I buy books. It’s my lone consumerism weakness. I love books. I love to read them, I love to hold them and smell them, I love to own them. So I buy them (despite not having room for them, despite my wife’s exasperated instructions to the contrary). I’m not rich, so I go to library book sales and buy books for between $1-$3. I buy 2 types of books—books I’ve heard/read about and want to read, and books whose covers convince me that I’ll enjoy them, that I should read them. Falconer by John Cheever was the latter type of purchase.

The cover of Falconer informs you that the author is the winner of the Pulitzer Prize (always a promising sign), and features a single quote from The New York Times:
“One of the most important novels of our time… Read it and be ennobled.” I’ve always found it difficult to pass up an opportunity for a little ennobling, so I bought the book and eagerly set about reading it.

Falconer is a fine book. There are sentences, paragraphs, pages, and even a few sections of true brilliance, in which the author simply and deftly illustrates the suffering, the hope, the absurdity, the warmth, the pain, the impotence, and the humor that characterize human existence. Oftentimes I read these passages twice or more, to marvel at and indulge myself in Cheever’s skill. Suffice to say these passages connected with me in a deep way. There are also sentences, paragraphs, pages, and more than a section or 2 of masturbatory flights of fancy that were utterly incomprehensible to This Guy—sentences, paragraphs, pages, and sections where I was just like, “Wuck?” I mean I was lost. And irritated.

It is entirely possible that this reader doesn’t possess the intellect or imagination necessary to understand or appreciate all of the brilliance that John Cheever has to share. Forgive me for saying so, but I think it is just as likely that because Cheever writes so brilliantly at times, reviewers simply give him the benefit of the doubt when his writing becomes impenetrable. That they characterize the entire work as brilliant, when in fact only certain sentences, paragraphs, pages, and sections are brilliant (and others maddening).

Bottom line—Falconer is a fine book. But I don’t feel ennobled.

levitybooks's review against another edition

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4.0

*Medium Spoilers*

Surprisingly good for random pick at the library. I've never read so detailed an account of male homosexuality before. I've never seen any attempts at communicating the subtle nuances between a man desiring either a man or a woman within a narrative. I think this book mundanely but realistically explains the psychological experience of both homosexuality and prison, which is rare because both are normally made so sensational due to their political sensitivity that it's hard to know what it really is like.

Knowing John Cheever was secretly homosexual adds complexity for biographical critique. I'm unsure of whether he thinks male sexuality is socially conditioned (men becoming 'temporarily bisexual' in prison until they see their wives again) as opposed to something that is mostly established after adolescent development but sometimes covered by denial, or whether he had to write it like this to disguise the fact that he might empathize too closely with homosexuality to make his own homosexuality obvious to the public at a time where it was not that safe to do so.

freehottakes's review against another edition

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1.0

One star because zero stars is not possible with Goodreads. This book is awful. At least it's a fast read so the pain will end soon. He writes with the self-importance of someone who has too often been told that he is a Very Important Writer, and it detracts from the story. For all I know, the story could be great, but it is difficult to tell, viewing it as we must through the smug lens of John Cheever.

jakmerriman's review against another edition

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2.0

2.5*

nikkigee81's review against another edition

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4.0

I remember a college professor talking about John Cheever one day, probably The Swimmer, but that's the only interaction I had with his work until now. I'm sure that when this was first published, much of the candid and frank talk of phalluses and homosexuality was shocking to the average reader.

Farragut is a former professor, current drug addict and prisoner at Falconer. He's been incarcerated for the murder of his brother. The mundane, dreary life of the penitentiary is intercut with Farragut's musing upon his past. It's very psychological, rather than plot-driven, and Cheever has quite an evocative way with words.

thegrimmreader's review

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5.0

What did I think? I thought it was fantastic. But also quite sad/melancholy. Very well written.

zachkuhn's review

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5.0

With On the Yard, the great American prison novel.

darwin8u's review

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5.0

There is something both unsettling and beautiful about this compact Cheever novel. A novel of punishment and redemption, Falconer is also a story of addiction, of confinement, of an introspective man moving from his isolated past to his very human present. It is hard to compare Cheever's style to anyone, but there were moments where I felt I was floating in the same literary river as O'Connor, Dostoevsky, Chekhov, and Percy. His prose is amazing, his imagination is sharp, and the depth of his soul-searching is absolutely sublime.

kangaroo's review

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4.0

Rejoice, indeed.

arnie's review

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2.0

Farragut is a wealthy man and a drug addict who murdered his brother and is now in Falconer prison. The novel involves a set of interwoven vignettes involving prison life and memories of life before prison. I think I should stick to Cheever short stories.