Thursday, October 28, 2010

#22 - "Falconer" by John Cheever

My 22nd book from The List, is also the first book I've stolen.  Well, maybe stolen is too strong of word.  But I did 'borrow' it without permission from a tiny Newheart-esque Inn, near Markdale, Ontario. I was hoping the element of danger associated with reading a sto--borrowed book would make for some exciting reading sessions, but no luck; not once did I look over my shoulder to see if the fuzz was on my tail.  Falconer was yet another book I didn't really know anything about the story, but like Tropic of Cancer, I was aware of its' existence, thanks to "Seinfeld."  In the episode where Susan finds out here dad had an affair with John Cheever (The Cheever Letters), George is later seen reading Falconer (however he erroneously refers to it as The Falconer).

Ezekiel Farragut is serving a life sentence in Falconer State Prison for killing his brother.  Farragut is, or rather was, a university professor and heroin addict, living in a loveless marriage and a loveless life.  The book follows Frragut as he struggles to live with his addiction, with his loneliness and with his loss of freedom.  For whatever reason, when I started reading this book, I thought it was going to be like The Shawshank Redemption. I'm not sure if I was expecting a sequel, or the novelization of the movie, but I really had that type of prison story in my head.  My ideas were seemingly confirmed too, as the story started out describing the prison, an old stone structure, and then describing the various inmates and prisoners.

After I was about a quarter through the book however, I more or less forgot about The Shawshank Redemption, and was simply enjoying a good read, as the two stories seemed to head in different directions.  With Falconer, I was being pulled in only by the writing, and literally couldn't put the book down (by 'literally', I mean figuratively, as I was able to put the book down, but didn't want to, because I was enjoying it so much).  But now that I look back, despite having completely different stories, there were a lot of similarities between the two.  Both used hope as their main theme, which I suppose isn't an odd theme for a prison tale.  In Falconer, we see Farragut adapting to his surroundings, sort of accepting his fate and trying to make the best of his situation.  But slowly, the 'good' things in his life start to fade, and hope seems to disappear, until the end of the book, when a set of, how shall I say, fortunate circumstances fall into place, allowing for hope and even his freedom to return.  If you think back to the above mentioned movie, you'll remember that Andy Dufresne goes through pretty much the exact same roller coaster of emotions.  This isn't to say Falconer is exactly like Shawshank or vice versa, but I see a lot of similarities in the themes the two explore and only use it as a comparison, not a barometer.

What I liked about this book was its' ability to involve me with the emotions of the protagonist.  I found I enjoyed the book more at the beginning and the end, when times seemed to be going well for Farragut, while in his low times, I found my attention waning.  I like to think this is because of Cheever's writing being so effective at making the reader sympathize with the character.  Hopefully it isn't because I only like 'feel good' stories that don't effectively deal with realistic situations.  I'll go with the former.

Read TIME magazine's original review from February 28, 1977 right here.

I currently have eight books from the library, so I`ll select one to read next, but right now I`m not sure which it will be.

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