Falconer: Book Review

Why I chose to read it: Falconer fits many categories of the book challenge I chose. More than that, this is a book that I married into. That is, she owned it before we were married and added it to the bookshelf, always asking I make time to read it.


Amazon Rating: 4.1/5 stars (37 reviews)

Goodreads Rating: 3.65/5 stars (4,597 reviews)

LibraryThing Rating: 3.46/5 stars (892 reviews)

What Others Are Saying:

“Falconer is splendid. It is rough, it is elegant, it is pure. It is also indispensable, if you earnestly desire to know what is happening to the human soul in the U.S.A.” ~Saul Bellow

“But it does move beyond time, fusing the actual and the symbolic, the blocked heart and the locked door, the prison outside and the prison inside, in a conjunction that is nearly sacramental.” ~James Parker, Slate

“Sadly, for me the rest of the descriptions of Falconer fell rather flat.  Where this first sentence succeeds in being poetic and gritty, many of the other general descriptions of the prison felt simply overdone and fake.  It was kind of hard to take it all seriously, and I got rather tired trying.” ~ Trevor Barrett, The Mookse and the Gripes

My Take:

Falconer reminds me of my very least favorite work of art, Erased de Kooning Drawing. For those unfamiliar, Robert Rauschenberg in an effort to create a work of art by erasure, persuaded Willem de Kooning to hand over a work of art, which he then erased over the course of two months. What is left is a brown canvas with trace amounts that something used to exist.

Where Rauschenberg chose to use another artists work, Cheever seems to erase any sense of momentum he begins to achieve in Falconer. For instance, our protagonist, Zeke Farragut befriends a cat early in his imprisonment. In fact, all of the prisoners have befriended at least one cat and as many as six or more. After paragraphs of beginning to believe this relationship will blossom or struggle as the book continues, the cats are slaughtered, massacred a few paragraphs later. The cats and the brief relationship were just another line erased. A critical line that would’ve most certainly connected to another part of the whole, gone.

And while we can and should study and analyze what significant role this has on Zeke and the story, I really just felt betrayed. Almost as if Cheever backed out of an unspoken promise.

There are times that the prose are unbelievable. On occasion the only thing that kept me reading was to admire the writing. Unfortunately, the spell wears off eventually and the reader is left flipping back through the previous few pages wondering what had actually happened.

On the other end of the spectrum, the least cerebral moments take control and are the driving force. When Zeke feels an injustice was served he writes three notes. All increasingly more deranged and hilarious than the previous letter. Another tangible moment is Jody’s escape, which is executed under the cloak (literally) of the church. This moment was, far and away, my favorite. It’s one of the few times Cheever comes through on his promise. Providing clarity and execution while still telling the story his way. Is it any accident that Jody, a prisoner, escapes prison through religious means? Isn’t that a tale as old as imprisonment itself?

To say that this is a prison novel wouldn’t be quite accurate. To say this was a great novel, or terrible novel, or an easy read or difficult journey, or any other possible hyperbole wouldn’t be quite accurate. Read any review of Falconer and you will find, even in the most glowing reviews, mixed feelings. All of this to say, Falconer is unconventional.

I’ve read a handful of analyses of Falconer and most will begin with a history lesson on Cheever’s life. It almost always seems critical to have this information. In this sense, this information makes Falconer a companion piece, or maybe vice versa. Either way, the history lesson or Falconer seems to be the missing link. The line drawn and erased.

becomingly Rating: 2.5/5 stars



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