Webster Chronicle A Novel Hardcover – Oct 4 2001
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From Publishers Weekly
A molestation incident in the day-care facility of a small town sends the community spinning out of control in Akst's complex, thought-provoking follow-up to his raucous, over-the-top debut, St. Burl's Obituary. Akst narrates the story through Terry Mathers, a major daily reporter turned editor of the weekly Webster Chronicle. Mathers becomes intrigued when an attractive expert on child abuse named Diana Shirley shows up at a town meeting, and her arrival quickly becomes significant when she unearths some questionable practices at the local day-care center. Mathers writes an editorial supporting her investigation, but their quest turns problematic when they fall into an affair while Mathers's wife also has an affair, with one of the paper's most prominent advertisers. The situation gets even more incestuous when Mathers's father, a prominent journalist and national pundit, runs with the story as the allegations spread to include a possible Satanic cult. Akst underplays the sensationalism of the case as it comes to trial, choosing instead to focus on the intricate ties of smalltown life; Webster comes apart, and Mathers begins to question his original editorial as the accusations spiral into a literal and figurative witchhunt. This book lacks the humor of Akst's masterful debut novel, and the absence of a child as a principal character is especially noticeable given the plot. But this book has its own special set of strengths, the most prominent being Akst's ability to take on a hot-button topic and create a memorable protagonist whose emotional decisions reveal him to be wise, flawed and all too deeply human.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From Library Journal
Akst's second novel promises to garner the same respect as his first, St. Burl's Obituary (LJ 2/1/96). Fans of Richard Russo will be drawn to protagonist Terry Mathers as he struggles with the declining financial stability of the small-town newspaper he co-owns and edits, his failing marriage, and his long-suffering relationship with his successful television journalist father. While he fights his own demons, he must objectively cover crucial matters in the village of Webster including the threatened takeover of a local department store by a big chain and allegations of sexual abuse and Satanism at the local preschool (a plot line inspired by the famous McMartin case in California in the 1980s). Akst, a columnist for the Sunday New York Times, uses bold and descriptive language to tell a story that takes unexpected twists and turns. Even in small towns, people are perhaps not what they seem. Recommended for public libraries. Karen Traynor, Sullivan Free Lib., Chittenango, NY
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.
Most recent customer reviews
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. Read morePublished on Nov. 25 2001 by D. C. Carrad
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... Read morePublished on Oct. 17 2001 by K. A. Locker