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FALCONER by John Cheever Kirkus Star

FALCONER

By John Cheever

Pub Date: March 1st, 1977
ISBN: 0679737863
Publisher: Knopf

It is many years since we left the Steuben glasshouse world that was, so unmistakably, Cheerer country. Via Bullet Park, a gentler, more vulnerable book than this, he introduced his broader and deeper ranging metaphysics of life and death, always in mysterious tandem. They're constants here in Falconer prison where Farragut, 734-508-32, a fratricide and a drug addict, is serving a zip to ten sentence. The drug he really hopes to find is a "distillate of earth, air, water, and fire." While Farragut reflects on his mortality and courts "death's dark simples," filth and degeneracy--redolent of Genet--are all around him. The Valley, for instance, is a urinal trough where you really go to relieve other needs unless you've turned homosexual. Farragut is briefly drawn to Jody, indicted on 53 counts, Jody who talks and listens in his abandoned water tower--his own private treehouse. But in spite of the physical solace Jody provides, Farragut is alone with his thoughts or dreams or memories. Cheever's prose is an amazingly flexible instrument, moving from the scatological within these cold, granite wails to the high of the true "croyant"--the believer detached from life and racked by the prospect of Judgment Day. He's equally in sync with bitter-sentimental satire--the annual Christmas tree and color photograph with inmates, the bequest of a "fucking do-gooder. . . they cause all the trouble." As another cellmate, Chicken Two, lies dying, he says quietly "I'm intensely interested in what's going to happen next." So evidently is Cheever. It is part of the upsweep, the shackled vision of the book. Though the fate of Farragut and Falconer may be open-ended, Cheever's novel is a strong fix--a statement of the human condition, a parable of salvation.