Top positive review
A serious, well-written novel
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.