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3.8 out of 5 stars
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on November 27, 2001
In just his second novel, Daniel Akst has certainly grasped a level of cynicism that nearly overshadows a brilliant book about the loss of innocence in small-town America.
Akst's The Webster Chronicle captures a town in termoil after an allegation of spanking at a local day care evolves into a national drama with the town's newspaper editor at the center of it all.

Akst weaves the plot and characters so deftly as to marvel at his level of craftsmanship. But in the midst of a thought-provoking tale, he defaces any and all societal institutions, including a tabloid media, religion, government, the justice system and corporate America, which leaves the reader with a sour taste.
With so many integral parts to the puzzle, the message is so muddled and gets lost in a maze that eventually reaches a lousy ending in the final two pages.
While Terry Mathers, Akst's complex and pot-smoking protagonist, eventually reaches an obvious epiphany, the fate Akst's creates for him is so far from what anyone might expect, particulary his final career and relationship destinations. Mathers, like his father and his wife, end the novel with no redeeming qualities.
But that is Akst's ultimate goal and message. In a complex and inter-connected world, nothing and no one are as innocent as they appear.
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on November 25, 2001
Worst book I've read all year (this is being written in late November) and strong contender for worst book of the decade. Flat, leaden, dull prose. Cardboard characters with no depth. Silly little trivial asides. No sense whatever of plotting, timing or narrative. The author uses a true story from the pages of the Wall Street Journal as the basis for this book, but does not realize that he still has an obligation to write well and make the characters come alive -- you can't hang your words on an extoskeleton; the book has to have internal structure. The ending is farcial, and the subplot conflict between father and son is a genuine embarassment to read. Avoid at all costs. I want my money back!!
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on October 30, 2001
Daniel Akst takes his readers into the small town of Webster, where Terry Mathers and his estranged wife Abigail run the weekly newspaper, The Webster Chronicle, in a time of change. The local department store is embroiled in a takeover bid that threatens the downtown as Webster knows it (no matter that most people shop at the mall), and the Alphabet Soup preschool is so popular that they admit children on a competitive basis (even though it is used primarily for day-care and not academic enrichment.) Single parenthood is on the rise. In this environment, the stage is set for an unknowning reenactment of the Salem witch trials: a drunken, bereaved mother shouts out a single, misunderstood accusation, and the town is forever changed by hysteria.
Akst is best here when he explores Webster through the eyes of Terry Mathers, the stuttering, struggling, editor who feels that he will always be living in the shadow of his father, a well-known newscaster. Emily,the owner of the preschool who is accused of child abuse, also has a compelling perspective, but some of the others water down the central thrust of the novel. Akst, in his attempt to fully explore the issues, spreads himself too thin, sometimes glossing over areas he has carefully introduced, other times concentrating on a minor aspect. However, the quality of the writing carries this story through its weaknesses with aplomb.
Although THE WEBSTER CHRONICLE does not have the emotional energy of Akst's debut, ST. BURL'S OBITUARY, it does have the mark of a maturing novelist. Akst is a literary talent to watch.
I recommend this book for readers of literary fiction as well as for those interested in issues of small town America, false memories, child abuse, and mass hysteria.
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on October 17, 2001
A thought-provoking tale of America in the 80's. This a rich multi layered tale that careens from child abuse, witchcraft, sexual yearning and the deceptive complexities of life in small town America. Terry Mathers, the flawed everyman "hero" is as richly drawn a personality as those created by Updike, Pynchon and Bellow. Akst expertly juggles many themes, weaving them into into a glittering iridescent fable. I have been of fan of Akst's since his first non-fiction book "Wonder Boy" and this clearly continues the arc of what has already been a compelling body of work. I heartily recommend this book to anyone who wants to experience one of America's finest young writers.
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on October 17, 2001
This is the kind of book that you don't want to finish. Terry Mathers does what we all dream of doing--leaving the city and a big, but dead-end job, for obscure Webster. There, he and his wife Abigail, run their own show. In this case, that means a newspaper that's been financed by a $200,000 loan from his father, an aging prime time television commentator.
Life at the Webster Chronicle is fun, financially precarious and full of ethical dilemmas that send Mathers to the gym, reefer or both. A child abuse case develops and Akst demonstrates-- perfectly, credibly and with humor--how a spanking turns into allegations of satanic rituals involving naked children. The abuse charges multiply and unsettle nearly everything, even the hostile takeover of a local chain. Don't worry about it, it works.
Mathers is likable because he's flawed and complicated and, finally, because he was wise enough to marry Abigail. The Webster Chronicle is enduring because it's smart, funny and demonstrates the hideous complications of life in a small town.
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on October 14, 2001
Terry and Abigail Mathers are the owners of the town's weekly newspaper THE WEBSTER CHRONICLE. Even though the couple is separated and have significant others, they still care about each other and have the paper and a child tying them together. Terry has always lived in his father's shadow, a Walter Cronkite type figure who is a top gun on television. While he can't beat his father on the national level, he hopes his hometown will have a hot story that will make his name a household word too.

Terry's chance comes when the owners of the Alphabet School pre-school and their employees are accused by two of the townsfolk of child abuse and molestation. The gossip spreads like wildfire and more parents who have placed their children in the preschool come forth with tales that their children have told them. Terry starts out by being an objective journalist but as he plunges deeper into the story, he crosses the line that separates the watcher from the participant.

THE WEBSTER CHRONICLE is a fabulous work that demonstrates how rumors, innuendoes, and accusations quickly can turn into a very ugly witch hunt. Daniel Akst has written a credible yet frightening story that spotlights the role the media has on the justice system. This insightful work is worthy of award nominations.

Harriet Klausner
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