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Thursday, August 16, 2007


by John Cheever
(4 stars)

I'm a little confused about the description in the synopses here of the "nightmarish" prison. Falconer didn't seem nightmarish to me at all, just the opposite. Farragut is never beat up--except by a sadistic deputy warden, who is the only one who could be considered nightmarish but he isn't around for much--or raped (in the shower or anywhere else) or thrown into a dank hole for weeks at a time. Falconer isn't where I'd choose to take a vacation, but it's far from a dungeon, gulag, or concentration camp.

The story is about a college professor named Farragut--married to a beautiful but unfaithful and uncaring wife--who murdered his elder brother, though he claims it was an accident. The doctors and witnesses said he hit the brother twenty times with a fireplace implement, which hardly seems accidental. Farragut is sentenced to Falconer prison where he meets an assortment of characters like Tiny the guard who sneaks in tomatoes and other goods, big-talking Chicken Number Two, and the dashing Jody, who becomes Farragut's lover for a time. Ultimately Farragut comes to a momentous decision, which I won't spoil for you.

Perhaps because I read both recently, "Falconer" reminded me of "Catch-22" only set in a prison instead of the military. In both the authority figures are painted as uncaring dolts, the protagonist is trying to maintain his sanity in an insane situation, and both make the same decision at the end. Both books have a subtle, absurd humor to provide light to what would otherwise be a dark situation.

I prefer "Catch-22" if only because it seemed more fully developed. My copy of "Falconer" came in at 211 pages and to me the end with Farragut's big revelation and decision seemed a bit rushed. This might be because Cheever is a more prolific short story writer than novelist. I think he could have easily made this twice as long to make Farragut's realization a little less abrupt and to flesh out some of the supporting characters and such.

But that aside, this is still a great book that will make you laugh and think, so spend some solitary time with it.

That is all.

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