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Falconer by John Cheever

Falconer (1977)

by John Cheever

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Ezekiel Farragut, convicted of killing his brother, journeys to Falconer prison where he meets his fellow prisoners such as Chicken and the Cuckold, endures hostile guards and a methadone addiction, and has a love affair with a fellow prisoner.

After my book club read The Night Swimmer last year, which had several quotes from John Cheever's works and notebooks, my group wanted to read one of John Cheever's novels, and this was our choice. I'm not really sure what I expected, but this wasn't quite it. Cheever can certainly craft a sentence, but I found the story and the characters mostly bleak and felt like I was missing the point at least half the time. Was there a point? I'd be hard pressed to describe a plot. I'm sure that if I were still in school, a teacher could have teased out the symbolism of confinement and imprisonment versus freedom, either of the body or the soul. But I couldn't unless I were to read it again, and I'm afraid I really wasn't captured enough myself to be so inclined. ( )
  bell7 | Jun 18, 2015 |
This is an interesting novel and about a subject that isn't written about too often..it takes place within the confines of a prison and there's a great deal of characterization of the prisoners and their stories as well as the philosophical thinking of the protagonist, who perhaps accidentally killed his brother and his addicted to methadone. There's some ideas of prisoner's rights as well as memories, a homosexual love affair, a clergy visit, and even a little of revolution but it leaves you with a very strange idecipherable sort of feeling throughout, including the ending, which I feel could be taken either as a literal closure or a metaphorical one.

In any case, wither when it was written in the 70s or in our present time, there aren't many authors that are really exploring the humanity of prisoners including the qualities and the flaws as well as somewhat the prison guards themselves (though more on the prisoners). Cheever brings a certain quality to the novel in terms of the way they speak and their own life histories they seem to be desperate to tell, even to the point of bribes.

I think this novel is worth reading but even more so I feel it is worth pondering because we often think of criminals in a much different way and, though this novel is only a little over 200 pages, Cheever seems to take his time developing the storyline around characters that are too easily overlooked and forgotten, and again not often the focus of the vast majority of novels.

Memorable quotes:

pg. 38 "Loneliness taught the intransigent to love their cats as loneliness can change anything on earth."

pg. 51 Farragut, lying on his cot thinking of the morning and his possible death, thought that the dead, compared to the imprisoned, would have some advantages. The dead would at least have panoramic memories and regrets, while he, as a prisoner, found his memories of the shining world to be broken, intermittent and dependent on chance smells-grass, shoe leather, the odor of piped water in the showers. He possessed some memories, but they were eclipsed and indisposed. Waling in the morning, he cast wildly and desperately around for a word, a metaphor, a touch or smell that would grant him bearing...

pg. 80 "It was a very heavy and beautiful snow that, like some juxtaposition of gravity, seemed to set the mountain range free of the planet."

pg. 188 "I wouldn't be able to speak to you softly and with patience at this point if I did not believe that mathematics and geometry are a lying and a faulty analogy for the human disposition. When one finds in men's nature, as I do in yours, some convexity, it is a mistake to expect a corresponding concavity. Thiere is no such thing as an iscosceles man."

pg. 200 "...so I figure I must come into this life with the memries of some other life and so it stands taht I'll be going into something else and, you know what, Zeke, you know what, I can hadly wait to see what it's going to be like..."

pg. 207 "Had he raised his head, he would have seen a good deal of velocity and confusion as the clouds hurried past the face of a nearly full moon.."

pg. 208 "I got plenty of money. I been evicted because I'm a human being, that's why. ( )
  kirstiecat | Mar 31, 2013 |
This is the third time I've read Falconer. The first was in college--I had just met John Cheever at a reading and the book had just been published and everyone, everyone knew it was a masterpiece, including me. If GoodReads had been around I would have given Falconer 5 stars.

I read it again fifteen years later, after everyone had forgotten about it. You could barely find it in bookstores--there was just room enough on the shelves for one Cheever book, by that time, and it was invariably his fat red Stories collection. On this second reading of Falconer I could make up my own mind and not be swayed by the crowd. And I was completely overcome by the narrative drive, the sheer beauty of the words, the mastery of sentence and paragraph and chapter, the swoon and swirl of the personal letters Farragut writes, the brief, beautiful love Farragut finds behind bars, the fantastic sweep of the closing paragraph. 12 stars, if I could.

And now another fifteen years has passed, and all these things are still true about Falconer--what beautiful, beautiful prose. But I find I can't get past the misogyny of the portrayal of Farragut's wife, or the pettiness of the authorial voice, or the ugliness of the judgments made of all humanity.

And I think: how could this man, this John Cheever, live with himself?

Of course, he did it badly. We know that now from his journals. He despaired of the world, he hated people, he hated himself. I'm happy at least that he had a book like "Oh What a Paradise it Seems" in him, and that he was able to publish this more hopeful and accepting outlook on life before he died. Falconer has none of this, though.

At this stage of my life I've learned, re-reading Falconer, that I'm no longer a nihilist, and no longer patient with other people's nihilism, however great the art that comes from it. I suddenly feel a strong need to go out and discover a book written in the last century that manages to be masterfully written while still being a hopeful book--not a sentimental book, not a trivial book, but a genuinely hopeful book. But maybe I'll fail. Maybe any great book has to be at least a little nihilistic. Tolstoy killed off any character who thought deeply, and let the buffoons live on. There is this deep idea about great literature, that any novel with happy characters must be vapid and sentimental. Ok. I'm on a quest to see if that is actually the case. ( )
  poingu | Mar 30, 2013 |
Falconer, John Cheever's best novel, is nothing less than a 20th-century classic, a story of human failure and redemption by one of the best fiction writers in American literature. Ezekiel Farragut arrives at Falconer prison, convicted of murdering his brother, Ebenezer. Farragut, a college professor, an intellectual, and a drug addict, has methodically cut himself off from the people in his life. He is selfish, nacissistic, aloof, egotistical in the extreme, and devoted to one thing: feeding his own appetites. But when forced into close quarters with society's dregs, he rebuilds emotional connections and frees himself of the bonds that have confined him to a prison of his own making. Miraculous things happen in these pages and Cheever sometimes strains the limits of narrative credibility. But in some ways reading Falconer is itself an act of faith because Farragut's story is transcendent and for all time. Essential reading. ( )
  icolford | Aug 6, 2011 |
I vastly prefer Cheever in his "suburban dystopia" mode (and I love him so much in that mode that I may have had very inflated hopes for this novel). It is actually a very good novel--especially when viewed as a dark allegory for American culture (suburban America, in particular). It is not, however, what you would call bright and uplifting. Dark, but pure quality. ( )
  TheBentley | Aug 26, 2010 |
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Book description
This book takes the style Cheever perfected in his New Yorker days, and stretches it out into a fluid masterpiece.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0679737863, Paperback)

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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:13:32 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

In a nightmarish prison a convict named Farragut struggles to remain a man. Out of Farragut's suffering and astonishing salvation, Cheever crafted his most powerful work of fiction.

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Average: (3.45)
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