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A blog for my academic ideas, more or less.

Starting to get John Cheever

“His main themes include the duality of human nature: sometimes dramatized as the disparity between a character’s decorous social persona and inner corruption, and sometimes as a conflict between two characters (often brothers) who embody the salient aspects of both – light and dark, flesh and spirit. Many of his works also express a nostalgia for a vanishing way of life (as evoked by the mythical St. Botolphs in the Wapshot novels), characterized by abiding cultural traditions and a profound sense of community, as opposed to the alienating nomadism of modern suburbia.”

Used to hear his name and think of him in the same vague sense I currently think of ‘Philip Roth’ because I haven’t read anything by him. Got his (Cheever’s) Collected Stories two years ago. Only real ‘engagement’ with him was that Susan’s dad in Seinfeld had an affair with him.

I have read the following stories from this collection:

‘The Enormous Radio’
‘O City of Broken Dreams’
‘The Five Forty-Eight’
‘The Superintendent’
‘The Swimmer’

I think I have read more than this but I’m not sure. “A lot of his stories seem the same because of the similar setting”. He writes about New York a lot. This doesn’t seem like a problem to me but maybe if people have some pre-existing issue/dislike of New York then they are irritated by it. The stories I’ve read often involve apartment or business buildings and the experiences of one person/character encountering other characters in them. The characters encounter other stories contained within these massive overarching structures. The experience of reading Cheever in this collected anthology is a little like this. The power of these structures sometimes overpower and depress the characters. The guy in The Swimmer transgresses/punctures the delimited suburban story structure?

Wonder if that’s been said in some criticism somewhere. Probably.

I like John Cheever’s stories. The characters seem interested and interested. They encounter closed off people and try to understand them and usually don’t. The Superintendent is my favourite guy so far. He is both lifted and crushed by the smallest praise/slight. He spends his day fixing things and managing problems. This masculine occupation facilitates the many other (non-masculine?) occupations of the residents of his building. He tries to feel better by getting  a shoe-shine. Not sure if he wants to feel better by meeting someone else who is on his blue-collar level or someone beneath him. The shoe-shine guy just goes on about how horny he is. Kinda hilarious and off-key.

Might need to start reconciling liking Cheever and current interest in my own innate dislike of ‘social realism’ or the representations of latter.

Oh and:

“Dear Henry, last night with you was bliss. I fear my orgasm has left me a cripple. I don’t know how I shall ever get back to work. I love you madly, John. P.S.: Love the cabin.”

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Filed under: reading

One Response

  1. simon armstrong says:

    The Swimmer is possibly my favorite short story ever – the complexity and referencing is staggering. Cheever wrote over 200 pages, then condensed it down to 11 pages – quite amazing. Every name and object in the story is a reference to something else – lots of greek mythology / astromomy and so on. A truly remarkable work, and a classic of what you mention – the ‘duality’ and delusions of the self.

    My other favorite Cheever story is ‘Reunion’ – the tale of a young man who meets his estranged father and their awkward attempt at reconciliation. Excruciating, frustrating yet brilliant.

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