Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
In spite of the inevitable pressures wrought by changing economic conditions, the town is still a place of decorum and relative tranquillity. Its comparative insularity, which makes it seem quaint and old-fashioned, affords a place of refuge to its inhabitants, so that Coverly Wapshot exclaims on its “pathos and beauty” after returning from the outside world. He regards his aunt Honora’s bizarre behavior as one of the “eccentric niceties” of the village.
At the book’s close, Cheever steps out of the omniscient authority of the narrative to compose an envoi to his real/fictional setting, admitting “I love this water and its shores; love it absurdly as if I could marry the view.” The novel is his paean to a place that he feared was soon to be lost forever. On the last page of the novel, Cheever regretfully states about St. Botolphs, “I will never come back” and adds, “if I do there will be nothing left . . . there will really be nothing at all.”
Talifer. Newly developed suburb near Boston that is the site of a missile research and development facility and a planned tract of homes for most of the people working at the complex. Coverly is employed there (until he loses his security clearance) and lives with his wife Betsey and young son in a nondescript mixed neighborhood, in which no one speaks to neighbors.
As Cheever conceives Talifer, it is an emblem of scientific heartlessness, cold and mechanistic, and inhabited by people who seem like robots, drones, and drudges. Its computer programmers and technicians are as eccentric as the residents of St. Botolphs, but their quirks tend to be antisocial, unfriendly, coarse, and often embarrassing. The sameness of the insubstantial houses that makes them seem to smell of shirt cardboard is set against distant mountains, which are the products of natural forces. Much of Cheever’s satire of contemporary America is built on Talifer’s repulsiveness.
*Rome. Capital city of Italy in which the worst of the rest of the world is objectified. In spite of its reputation as the “eternal city,” Rome is used by Cheever to stand for non-American ugliness. When Moses Wapshot’s wife Melissa visits Rome on an adulterous tryst, she experiences “Roman Blues”; when Honora is in Rome she is swindled and confused; Melissa’s paramour Emile experiences a “suspension of conscience” in Naples when he participates in an auction of sexual favors. The Italian landscape exemplifies for Cheever a mood which he describes as “autumn in a European city with war forever in the air.”
Proxmire Manor. Upscale suburb on three leafy hills north of New York City that Cheever contrasts with nearby Parthenia.
Parthenia. Ramshackle small town on the outskirts of New York City where the tradespeople who work for residents of Proxmire’s opulent mansions live. While Proxmire has “palatial” shopping centers, Parthenia’s few remaining stores are mostly deserted. Parthenia’s streets are dirty and dangerous. Whereas Proxmire is “handsome and comfortable,” Parthenia is a forecast of a future for once-thriving rural communities (like St. Botolphs) which had functioned as vital places where the local railroad station had “the rich aura of arrivals” prior to their current demise.