Wetherell, W.D. 1948-
WETHERELL, W.D. 1948-
(Walter David Wetherell)
PERSONAL: Born October 5, 1948, in Mineda, NY; son of Walter and Elizabeth (Hale) Wetherell; married Celeste Tousignant, July, 1982; children: two. Education: Hofstra University, B.A., 1973.
ADDRESSES: Home—P. O. Box 84, Lyme, NH 03768.
AWARDS, HONORS: Creative writing fellow in fiction, National Endowment for the Arts, 1982 and 1988; Dru Heinz Literature Prize for short fiction, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1985, for The Man Who Loved Levittown; National Magazine Award for fiction, 1992; Strauss Living, American Academy of Arts and Letters, 1998–2003; Michigan Literary Fiction Award, 2004.
Souvenirs (novel), Random House (New York, NY), 1981.
Vermont River (essays), illustrations by Gordon Allen, Winchester Press (Piscataway, NJ), 1984.
The Man Who Loved Levittown (stories), University of Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1985.
Hyannis Boat, and Other Stories, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1989.
Chekhov's Sister (novel), Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1990.
Upland Stream: Notes on the Fishing Passion (essays), Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1991.
The Wisest Man in America (novel), University Press of New England (Hanover, NH), 1995.
Wherever That Great Heart May Be: Stories, University Press of New England (Hanover, NH), 1996.
North of Now: A Celebration of Country and the Soon to Be Gone (essays), Lyons Press (New York, NY), 1998.
One River More (essays), Lyons Press, 1998.
Morning (novel), Pantheon (New York, NY), 2001.
(Editor) This American River: Five Centuries of Writing about the Connecticut, University Press of New England (Hanover, NH), 2002.
Contributor to periodicals, including Atlantic Monthly, Watershed, New York Times and American Short Heritage.
SIDELIGHTS: W.D. Wetherell has earned acclaim for both his novels and short stories. The Man Who Loved Levittown is a collection of offbeat, unsettling tales. In the title story, an aging fellow mourns the decline of his suburban surroundings and then turns to violence. In another tale, "Volpi's Farewell," an aging opera singer and his young son both find themselves involved in unlikely romances. "North of Peace" concerns a pitiable anti-nuclear activist who becomes obsessed with inspiring a young woman who has a handicapped child. He finally realizes success, but at a staggering cost. Robert Ward, writing in the New York Times Book Review, deemed The Man Who Loved Levittown an "ambitious collection," and he lauded "North of Peace" as the volume's "funniest and toughest story." The reviewer added that Wetherell "has a sharp, fresh eye and a complicated view of our dislocations, pains and dreams."
The curious and disturbing are also prominent in Wetherell's 1989 story collection, Hyannis Boat, and Other Stories. Notable here is "The Mall: A History," where a young boy suffers a crushing disappointment after learning that the site where pilot Charles Lindbergh began his famous transatlantic flight has since been covered by a shopping mall. Other stories include "Things to Come: Maine, 1951," in which a sad woman yearns to escape her isolation, and "Brooklyn Wept," where an aging baseball player experiences an epiphany while gazing at a flock of soaring birds. Jodi Daynard, in her New York Times Book Review assessment of Hyannis Boat, contended that some of the stories are occasionally "too thinly told," but she also observed that Wetherell is adept at relating "interior drama." The relationship between nature and human beings is the main theme in Wetherell's third collection of short fiction, Wherever That Great Heart May Be: Stories. This volume shows Wetherell to be "a canny, fastidious storyteller," commented Amy Boaz in the New York Times Book Review, while a Publishers Weekly reviewer observed that "his often surprising offerings read like fables, brought to life through an assured and original touch."
Among Wetherell's most widely reviewed writings is Chekhov's Sister, a novel about literary master Anton Chekhov's faithful sister Maria. Set during World War II, the novel finds Maria presiding over the Chekhov Museum in the Crimean city of Yalta even as invading German troops draw nearer. Maria is determined to preserve the museum, her late brother's home, from the devastation of warfare. Helping her are Kunin, a medical student, and Diskau, a German devotee of Chekhov's works. Kunin, the narrator and an aspiring writer, falls in love with an actress involved in the group's staged reading of Chekhov's play The Seagull. Trouble develops as one of Kunin's zealously patriotic friends plots the murder of the German Diskau. Other sequences involve Maria's recollections of her own romance, one that was undone by her beloved brother. And still other episodes are presented as the recollections of Kunin, who—forty years after the narrative's main events—has just retired from his position as director of the museum.
Chekhov's Sister won Wetherell substantial praise from critics. Nation contributor David Kaufman, for instance, called the complex, multi-leveled novel "a major achievement and addition to contemporary literature." The New York Times's Michiko Kakutani hailed it as a "highly accomplished work of fiction." Kakutani, who described Chekhov's Sister as "a melancholy, Chekhovian story of love and loss and deterred ambitions," added that it "stands as a loving tribute to Chekhov." Wetherell told CA: "Chekhov's Sister was for me a testament of faith—in the power of art in general, and in the importance of fiction in particular. In this and in my stories, I have tried to make this testament as extravagant and unmistakable as possible."
Wetherell's novel The Wisest Man in America is a tale of two men. Max Thomas is an esteemed newspaper columnist facing retirement; the book's title comes from a compliment a colleague once gave him. He is on his way to visit a man who may be as wise or wiser, his old friend Ferris, a rural New Englander with an uncanny ability to predict who will be each major party's presidential candidate. Ferris also once had an affair with Max's late wife, a distinguished scientist who was neglected by her husband. Now both men are lonely widowers, each with a sole, troubled child, and both, in sorting out their memories, confront some unpleasant truths. A Publishers Weekly reviewer called The Wisest Man in America an "understated, resonantly thoughtful novel." New York Times Book Review contributor Noel Perrin, however, thought that while "much is well evoked in the book … a kind of pall hangs over the whole novel. Every character and almost every scene is allegorical. Max is America thinking, Ferris is the vox populi. Ferris's son stands for the loss of purpose in America; the little lost town of Eden, NH, now just cellar holes—well, you can guess what that stands for."
Although probably best known for his novels and short stories, Wetherell has also published four essay collections, including three focusing on fly-fishing and nature—Vermont River, Upland Stream: Notes on the Fishing Passion, and One River More. In the New York Times Book Review, Verlyn Klinkenborg described Upland Stream as "ambitious, full of a questing, intellectual spirit," and he added that it is "familiar, friendly." One River More, according to New York Times Book Review contributor Mary Grace Butler, is a "series of thoughtful, evocative meditations on the environment, culture, relationships and, incidentally, fly fishing." A call for respecting nature and a distaste for some of the things that have changed about fly-fishing and about American life in general run through this collection.
Disenchantment with contemporary life also is present in Wetherell's essay collection, North of Now: A Celebration of Country and the Soon to Be Gone, in which he celebrates his rural New England home and denounces many aspects of modern life. Wetherell "sees himself as a relic of another era," remarked Emily d'Aulaire in Smithsonian; he believes "the very conception of man has changed dramatically in the last one hundred years and not for the better." He dislikes computers, television, and suburban sprawl, and he laments the decline of reading. D'Aulaire detected a "hint of self-righteousness" in Wetherell's musings, but she also noted that the author details the things that please him as well as those that do not; he takes delight in nature and family relationships. A Publishers Weekly critic thought Wetherell managed to avoid "being too sentimental or woefully reactionary" and that the book had the effect of "a comfortable, peaceful hum."
Wetherell served as editor for This American River: Five Centuries of Writing about the Connecticut. Wetherell chose from a number of genres for the book, including official guides and reports, as well as travelogs and poetries, some written by such noted literary figures as Henry David Thoreau and Charles Dickens. Writing in the Library Journal, Gregg Sapp noted that "the American tradition of nature writing about rivers, as exemplified by this anthology, began almost as soon as Europeans settled the continent."
In A Century of November, Wetherell tells the story of Charles Marden, an apple grower from British Columbia, and his trip to Europe. But this is no vacation. Marden sets out to visit the grave of his son who died in World War I. Once there, Marden learns of Elaine Reed, a Belfast girl who is pregnant with the child of Marden's son. The author follows Marden as he encounters soldiers recovering psychologically from the war, battlefields and trenches still polluted with poison gas, and others like himself searching for family members and loved ones. Scott Brown, writing in Entertainment Weekly, called the novel "gripping, damning, and transfixing." A Publishers Weekly contributor wrote, "Wetherell's prose and character writing are unflinching, and the final meeting between Marden and Reed is gut-wrenching." In a review in Booklist, Max Winter called it a "taut and mesmerizing novel."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, October 1, 2004, Max Winter, review of A Century of November, p. 312.
Entertainment Weekly, November 12, 2004, Scott Brown, review of A Century of November, p. 131.
Library Journal, November 15, 2002, Gregg Sapp, review of This American River: Five Centuries of Writing about the Connecticut, p. 97.
Nation, June 18, 1990, David Kaufman, review of Chekhov's Sister, pp. 862-64.
New York Times, March 2, 1990, Michiko Kakutani, review of Chekhov's Sister, p. B4.
New York Times Book Review, September 13, 1981, Eleanor Foa Dienstag, review of Souvenirs, p. 14; January 5, 1986, Robert Ward, review of The Man Who Loved Levittown, p. 8; June 7, 1987, p. 34; June 18, 1989, Jodi Daynard, review of Hyannis Boat and Other Stories, p. 20; June 9, 1991, Verlyn Klinkenborg, review of Upland Stream: Notes on the Fishing Passion, p. 13; April 23, 1995, Noel Perrin, review of The Wisest Man in America, p. 24; June 2, 1996, Amy Boaz, review of Wherever That Great Heart May Be, p. 21; December 13, 1998, Mary Grace Butler, review of One River More, p. 22.
Publishers Weekly, January 2, 1995, review of The Wisest Man in America, p. 58; February 2, 1998, review of North of Now: A Celebration of Country and the Soon to Be Gone, p. 76; October 18, 2004, review of A Century of November, p. 49.
Smithsonian, June, 1998, Emily d'Aulaire, review of North of Now, p. 109.