Summary and book reviews of The Webster Chronicle by Daniel Akst

The Webster Chronicle

By Daniel Akst

The Webster Chronicle
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  • Hardcover: Oct 2001,
    320 pages.
    Paperback: Nov 2002,
    320 pages.

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Book Summary

Terry Mathers feels like a failure. His small-town weekly, The Webster Chronicle, is facing bankruptcy; he has separated from his wife; and his journalist father, Maury, is both the king of prime time and a magnet for younger women. Now in midlife, Terry's fed up with being disappointed---and disappointing.

But then Webster is shocked by an accusation of child abuse at the local, and highly esteemed, preschool. As the community grapples with rapidly escalating allegations, Terry seizes his chance to scoop the national media. His articles fan the flames of the growing crisis, and as the major news organizations descend, he struggles to maintain his professional judgment and ethics.

The Washington Post called Daniel Akst's first novel, St. Burl's Obituary, an "ingenious and thought-provoking . . . map of the contemporary world." With The Webster Chronicle, Akst gives readers another sharp and perceptive look at modern America, using as his backdrop a dark period in our country's early history. He deftly describes a community helpless in the face of mass hysteria and mass media, and guided by hapless, awkward Terry Mathers, who believes he's on a mission to save the children until he realizes, too late, that he's really only trying to save himself.

Chapter One

Anniversaries are important to journalists, and so it was that on this, the fifth anniversary of his less-than-triumphant return to the town of his boyhood, Terry Mathers prepared himself for the ordeal of the night ahead by single-handedly smoking a reefer of Rastafarian proportions and heading hatless out into the night.

His destination filled him with dread. The YM-YWCA in Webster was near the former railroad station and just down from the old post office but distinguished itself from the other two by clinging even more tenaciously to what was left of its tattered dignity. Burdened by its Oz-like yellow brick and gewgaws and its redolently old-fashioned name, so suggestive of salvation and temperance and lye soap, the former Young Men’s Christian Association (the words were carved with embarrassing permanence above the lintel) was bent now on rescuing itself from the downtown seediness in which it had joined so many of its counterparts in more significant ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

Discussion Questions

  1. In The Webster Chronicle, it is unclear whether Belinda Jackson is telling the whole truth about the reason for her daughter's death in the car wreck. Is her daughter's confession of child abuse the real reason for Belinda's crash, or was she just another drunk driver who killed an innocent person?

     
  2. Since the first allegations of child abuse at Alphabet Soup came from Belinda Jackson and Lucille Lyttle, the first of which killed her daughter while driving drunk, and the second of which is an alcoholic who is loyal to Belinda, what are your first reactions to these allegations? Especially considering the conflicting evidence which might support allegations of child abuse: that Frank and ...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
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.

Booklist

Akst vividly illustrates the rocky road from ethical journalism to tabloid sensationalism by showing how isolated accusations can be fed and regurgitated as fact to a hungry and otherwise bored public.

Library Journal - Karen Traynor

Akst's second novel promises to garner the same respect as his first, St. Burl's Obituary....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.

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