William Lychack’s THE WASP EATER

TheWaspEaterWilliam Lychack’s THE WASP EATER is a gem of a book, at 164 pages more of a novella than a novel. It is written in beautifully spare prose. Here is an example of what I mean, taken from the opening:

 She became a widow well before his father died. It was how she managed–the grief made her strong, the man dead before he died, and the boy still just a boy, a little wisp of a kid, ten years old, an only child, end of story. End of story, except she stood in his bedroom doorway that afternoon and said, “Your father’s not going to be home for dinner tonight.”

And Daniel turned to her. “So?”

“So,” she said, “I just thought you should know.”

I love the little repetitions in the prose, the way the phrase ‘end of story’ forms the end of one sentence and starts another. The way the word ‘so’ goes from being a child’s sarcastic response to a mild continuation of the kind of information that family members often give each other, the kind that doesn’t really tell you anything important. Or that you have to listen to sideways in order to understand.

Where this novella has problems is towards the end. After the arc of tension comes to a resolution with the father’s rescue of son Daniel from a New York City jail, it never really picks up again. Father and son take off on a aimless drive, which unfortunately is aimless on the page. There is no tension to lift it up and make it interesting. True, there is some hint that the parents might reconcile, but that possibility isn’t set up properly, mainly because we aren’t given enough interior monologue to fill in the feelings behind the typical male lack of verbal communication. Mr. Lychack’s ear catches perfectly the rhythm of father-son interaction, but without an account of the feelings simmering underneath, there is not enough emotion on the page to keep this reader interested. Three stars.

 

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