Constant Reader
WebBoardOrientationReading ListsHome WorksActivities

Buy the paperback

The Stories of John Cheever

THE STORIES OF JOHN CHEEVER
 
This must be “All The Stories There Ever Were In The World By John Cheever”. But I can’t think of any I’ve read so far (I’m not finished, but I’m on the home stretch) that I would have omitted. Well, maybe one or two. I love these stories. I just finished one called “Montraldo” that had one of the best first lines I’ve read in a long time. “The first time I robbed Tiffany’s, it was raining.” Now that’s a line that really pulls you in. As if the raining was just as momentous an event as the robbing, or that the robbing was just as ordinary as the raining. There are many passages that I have underlined, and eventually, I’ll get around to pointing some of them out. But right now, I just want to get this thread started. It being the Christmas season, I thought that even though this is a very large book, we could still discuss it even if you only read one single story. I like that the collection is chronological. I AM
reading them straight through, one right after the other, with breaks between each story (that may be why it’s taking me so long). There is a real rhythm to them, and themes and places and even events reappear in odd places, so that you feel that you know the “new” people he is writing about because you’ve read all around them, but you’re just now getting to this particular set of characters. You can see how his life changes as he gets older. He spends a lot of time in Italy later in the book, but the people are nearly always connected in some way to New York. One of my favorites is “Just Tell Me Who it Was.” It has a description of a person that I liked: “Everyone was glad to see him, as one is glad to see, at the end of a meal, the appearance of a bland, fragrant, and nourishing dish made of fresh eggs, nutmeg, and country creAM
.” Now what would you think that man looked like?
 
Sherry
 
From:
Barbara Moors (ncsh82b@prodigy.com)

Date:

Tuesday, December 15, 1998 06:19 PM

 
I decided to start with the four stories that Dale recommended and go from there. The two I've read so far are "The Enormous Radio" and "The Sorrows of Gin" so I've just dipped into the earlier part of his career. However, I'm very pleasantly surprised by them. I probably wouldn't ever have read Cheever without the CR motivation. Somehow, I had lumped him into a category of tales of suburban sex...kind of a John O'Hara type. Instead, these two stories are inventive and very much from a slightly off-center perspective.
 
In one of the books I read about Ray Carver, there was talk of Cheever and Carver's friendship at Iowa when Cheever was more well-known than Carver and both of them had significant drinking problems. It made for a lot of good stories for people to tell about them...however, I can also see a bit of Cheever's influence on Carver now and I didn't expect that.
 
Barb
 
From:
Jane Niemeier (jniemeie@jeffco.k12.co.us)

Date:

Tuesday, December 15, 1998 09:05 PM

 
Sherry and Barb,
After all of my complaining, I began the book at the beginning and have been reading the stories in order, just as you are doing, Sherry. Currently I AM
reading the story, "Just Tell Me Who It Was", and I love the line you quoted.
 
I, too, have noticed the recurring nAM
es and the use of the nAM
e Shady Hill for the suburb. This must be the most annoying and boring suburb ever. In one of the stories, the folks of good old Shady Hill don't want to build a library because it might attract develoPM
ent. It is "The Trouble of Marcie Flint". In another story, there is only one divorced couple in the whole town. Everyone has a high old time going to parties and getting drunk.
 
I love the two stories (so far) that take place in Italy, particularly "The Bella Lingua". Uncle George is the typical ugly AM
erican when he goes into the hotel dining room to order. "'Orange juice and hAM
and eggs,' he said to the waiter. The waiter brought him orange juice, coffee, and a roll. 'Where's my hAM
and eggs?' Uncle George asked, and then realized when the waiter bowed and smiled, that the man did not understand English. He got out his phrase book, but there was nothing about hAM
and eggs. 'You gotta no hAM
ma?' he asked loudly. 'You gotta no eggsa?'" I loved this scene.
 
Jane who is reading and reading and enjoying the stories
 
From:
Sherry Keller (shkell@earthlink.net)

Date:

Wednesday, December 16, 1998 06:47 AM

 
Jane,
Suburbs today must be a lot more anonymous than they must have been during Cheever's writing of these stories. At least the ones I've lived in. Even the cities. It seemed if you moved into a suburb what you were really doing was joining a church or an inbred club, where your every idea, impulse, or action was put on display for observation and judgment. The only place I ever lived that was like that was the little community where I grew up. But boy were the activities different from the suburban ones. Can you imagine getting home from work every night after a long train commute and then going out to a party? Every night almost? And these parties seemed awful. I liked the story about the guy who when drunk would rearrange the furniture and do a obstacle race around the living room. What a surprise ending.
Sherry
 
From:
Sherry Keller (shkell@earthlink.net)

Date:

Wednesday, December 16, 1998 07:25 AM

 
Barb,
I think you'll really like "The Death of Justina". It's one of my favorites. (Now how many times AM
I going to say that?) The zoning laws in Shady Hill run AM
ok. The main character is trying to write an ad for a weird product called "Elixircol" (which also shows up in a couple different guises within this volume) while he's trying to get his dead aunt buried somewhere. It's that combination of funny, bizarre and sad that I seem to appreciate.
Sherry
 
From:
R Bavetta (rbav@prodigy.com)

Date:

Wednesday, December 16, 1998 12:04 PM

 
Since this book was my nomination, I'm feeling really guilty that things around here have been such, that I've just not been able to gather my thoughts about Cheever's work.
 
I, too, have never lived this kind of inbred party-going suburban life. But I think the effectiveness of Cheever's tales is that they extend beyond this limited milieu in their implications. Beside, the man can write. The sentences just glide along, never calling attention to themselves, but just easy and smooth and elegant.
 
I'll try to come back with more, later.
Ruth
 
From:
Ann Davey (davey4@prodigy.net)

Date:

Wednesday, December 16, 1998 04:31 PM

 
I've only read a few stories so far, but of the ones I've read, my impression is that there is always a twist at the end, and it is invariably unpleasant. These stories definitely linger with you.
 
So what do you think, was the wife in "Just Tell Me Who It Was" actually fooling around?
 
Ann
 
From:
Dale Short (mxdd10a@prodigy.com)

Date:

Thursday, December 17, 1998 07:34 AM

 
Ann &AM
p; All: What a treat, getting to read Cheever. I knew he was good, but I'd forgotten just how good. And it's interesting for me to see how my preferences AM
ong his stories change as I get older. I used to think "A World of Apples," about the aging poet, was just an AM
using interlude, but now I put it very near the top of the heap.
 
As others have said, the suburban lifestyle he describes is about as foreign to my experience as could be, but his people are so real--and he can conjure up a breathing person with just a line or two of description.
 
Ann, as to "Just Tell Me Who It Was," when I first read it 12-15 years ago it was obvious to me that the wife was unfaithful. But this time around, I've got my doubts. So many things just don't add up.
 
For one, would even people as boorish as the good burghers of Shady Hill suddenly teAM
up at the day-after party to torment a guy as sweet as Will if they really thought there was an indiscretion? They certainly had their own agendas. I don't see any direct evidence against Maria, just assumptions, and the whole cascade of thoughts that snowball toward Will punching the guy out--especially the drunk woman shouting at him in French he doesn't understand--are cases of "putting two and two together" and "now that I think of it..."
 
Any time a person starts being suspicious of another, there's suddenly dAM
ning evidence everywhere, mostly circumstantial, and I've seen it poison many a relationship. What if this story is a parable of the self-feeding nature of suspicion?
 
Also, I think Maria was very tired of Will constantly putting her on a pedestal in public. Even lacking an affair, could her behavior be a message to her husband that she's a grownup, and not a goody-two-shoes? Perverser things have happened.
 
Dale in Ala.
 
From:
Sherry Keller (shkell@earthlink.net)

Date:

Thursday, December 17, 1998 08:18 AM

 
I thought that the wife was not unfaithful, that she was growing up and wanted a change in her life and to be less controlled by her sweet but overprotective husband. He couldn't understand this for what it was, so jumped to the conclusion that he felt more comfortable with. That some other man had something to do with the changes in his wife. Heaven forbid, the changes should be self-made. I guess these stories take place way before the concept of actually talking about these things with your spouse. But I suspect, even if she had said to him: "Sit down, honey, I have something I want to talk to you about. I'm bored, and young, and want to be my own person. I'm tired of being a little girl in your eyes. I want to be a flesh and blood woman old enough to decide for myself what I should wear to a party. And if I decide I want to look sexy, that will be my decision." If she had said that, I bet he still would have said "Just tell me who it is!"
Sherry
 
From:
Dale Short (mxdd10a@prodigy.com)

Date:

Thursday, December 17, 1998 08:58 AM

 
I just read Cheever's story "The Chimera" for the first time. Though very short, I thought it was beautiful and original, and opens with one of his AM
azing first paragraphs.
 
The first word that comes to mind for the overall story is "plaintive," but I guess that's true of most of his work. Has anybody else found this one yet?
 
Dale in Ala.
 
From:
Dale Short (mxdd10a@prodigy.com)

Date:

Thursday, December 17, 1998 10:05 AM

 
One afterthought: a quality of "The Chimera" that I think is characteristic of Cheever's writing is that he sets the reader up to expect a certain type story, then keeps making unexpected turns until he ends up somewhere altogether different--yet in retrospect the whole weird thing makes perfect sense.
 
Or is that a characteristic of good literature in general? I think it was Faulkner who said, "A writer's job is to begin a story with 'A man went to buy a dog,' and then turn the narrative so many ways, with complications, that when he finally does buy the dog it almost comes as a surprise."
 
Dale in Ala.
 
From:
Sherry Keller (shkell@earthlink.net)

Date:

Thursday, December 17, 1998 01:55 PM

 
"The Chimera" is one of the ones I remember well. It is haunting, isn't it? And hopeful in a kind of odd, sad way.
Sherry
 
From:
Dale Short (mxdd10a@prodigy.com)

Date:

Thursday, December 17, 1998 02:18 PM

 
Sherry: Well put, I think..."hopeful in an odd, sad way" seems to be a recurring theme in Cheever, and one he does beautifully.
 
And what (another) sweet, trusting guy: brings Zena her breakfast in bed (complete with gin) and she gripes about him being in his underwear.
 
What's more, his wife's four sisters all had husbands who died under mysterious circumstances, Zena threatens him with a straight razor, and still he gives all five of 'em the benefit of the doubt:
 
"Had I married into a fAM
ily of incorrigible murderesses? I didn't think so. I seemed much less afraid for my life than to need tenderness, love, loving, good cheer--all the splendid and decent things I knew to be possible in the world."
 
Now, there's an optimist to be reckoned with. [G]
 
Dale in Ala.
 
From:
Dale Short (mxdd10a@prodigy.com)

Date:

Thursday, December 17, 1998 02:24 PM

 
Sherry: Wow...I just looked up "chimera"--having never been able to remember the correct pronunciation. I've always thought of the main definition as being a fantasy, an illusion, an imaginary being. But it seems the original meaning is from mythology, "An animal made up of grotesquely disparate parts."
 
Whew. I've got to let that soak in a while. Who or what is the Chimera in "The Chimera", do you think?
 
Dale in Ala.
 
From:
R Bavetta (rbav@prodigy.com)

Date:

Thursday, December 17, 1998 06:03 PM


 
One Chimera, coming up. Etruscan bronze from the first part of the 4th century BC.
 
Ruth
 
Chimera
 
From:
Dale Short (mxdd10a@prodigy.com)

Date:

Thursday, December 17, 1998 07:05 PM

 
Ruth: Good Lord! Now that's a fearsome beast. Something primal about it that gives me goosebumps.
 
Still, if I had a choice of facing either the Chimera, or Zena and her four sisters in Cheever's story, I'd say, bring on the beast...[G]
 
Dale in Ala.
 
From:
Dale Short (mxdd10a@prodigy.com)

Date:

Friday, December 18, 1998 06:41 AM

 
I enjoyed Cheever's story "The Chaste Clarissa," especially such succinct lines as:
 
The intimations of susceptibility that cAM
e from her in the summer night were so powerful, so heady, that they convinced Baxter that here was a woman whose chastity hung by a thread...
 
But the ending line, apt as it is--"It was as simple as that."--makes me wonder what happened immediately afterward. In the past, I recall much of the guy contingent here on CR being struck clueless by similar passages concerning relations between the sexes (in the stories of Alice Munro, for instance) and discovering that the fault lay in our more primitive, reptilian brains.
 
So what do you think, folks? "Did" they, or "didn't" they?
 
Dale in finally subfreezing Ala., cooking a massive breakfast fit for a reptile
 
(PS: Another favorite passage...)
 
Clarissa sat behind the teacups. Against the wall at her back was a glass cabinet that held the Ryans' geological specimens. Her arms were bare. Baxter watched them while she poured his tea.
"Hot?...Cold?...Lemon?...CreAM
?" seemed to be all she had to say, but her red hair and her white arms dominated that end of the room.
 
From:
Sherry Keller (shkell@earthlink.net)

Date:

Friday, December 18, 1998 08:47 AM

 
Dale, I can't remember the details of this story without re-reading, but that last sentence "It was as simple as that" sounds see like an affirmative to me.
Sherry
 
From:
Dale Short (mxdd10a@prodigy.com)

Date:

Friday, December 18, 1998 09:57 AM

 
Sherry: Yep, I was leaning toward the affirmative as well. I guess I just had hope that Baxter's conscience would steer him into a high-minded epiphany, i.e. that the degree to which he had found how to manipulate her gave him unfair advantage, and just enjoy her company platonically. But then, I believe in the Easter Bunny too...[G]
 
Dale in Ala.
 
From:
R Bavetta (rbav@prodigy.com)

Date:

Friday, December 18, 1998 07:14 PM

 
Sherry and Dale, I think you both hit the nail on the cabeza. "Hopeful in a sad, odd way". That's a great description, Sherry. And Dale, your comment on how he can make a person some alive with just a few lines. That's absolutely true, and extends beyond persons to places and moods.
 
Like many of us, altho I'm a product of the suburbs, it definitely was NOT Cheever's suburbs, nor was it Cheever's generation, but yet the people and the places are so real I can almost smell and taste them.
 
Just turn to the opening few paragraphs of THE SEASIDE HOUSES. I've never rented seaside houses redolent of the previous owners. I've never even seen the Atlantic coast. But I doubt I could experience it better in "real life" than I did in the opening of this story.
 
You unfasten the lock and step into a dark or a light hallway.... Our affairs are certainly not written in air and water, but they do seem to be chronicled in scuffed baseboards, odors, and tastes in furniture and paintings...Who, we wonder is the lady in the portrait in the upstairs hallway? Whose was the Aqualung, the set of Virginia Woolf? Who hid the copy of Fanny Hill in the china closet, who played the zither, who slept in the cradle...
 
Ruth
 
From:
Sherry Keller (shkell@earthlink.net)

Date:

Saturday, December 19, 1998 07:27 AM

 
I remember that description well, Ruth, and enjoyed it and understand it perfectly. The idea that things carry an aura or essence of an owner is one of the reasons it's hard for me to ever throw anything away. Or sell anything. And when I bought my old house, even though there were no possessions here to give me any of those feelings, the very door-frAM
es spoke to me.
Sherry
 
From:
R Bavetta (rbav@prodigy.com)

Date:

Saturday, December 19, 1998 02:57 PM

 
Nor can I bring myself to sell the hideous carved wooden shelf my grandmother brought home from Germany.
 
Ruth
 
From:
Barbara Moors (ncsh82b@prodigy.com)

Date:

Sunday, December 20, 1998 08:12 AM

 
Having finished Dale's first four recommendations, I AM
now starting at the beginning. Did anyone else love "Goodbye, My Brother" as much as I did? Cheever had the mood of that kind of situation done so perfectly. And, I absolutely knew the characters, especially the brother. Kept reading little snippets aloud to my husband and wanting to read more of them.
 
One of my favorites (and when I knew this was going to be a good one) was when Lawrence (the brother) says he doesn't care what he has to drink and finally asks for rum.
 
"'We don't have any rum,' Mother said. It was the first note of asperity. She had taught us never to be indecisive, never to reply as Lawrence had. Beyond this, she is deeply concerned with the propriety of her house, and anything irregular by her standards, like drinking straight rum or bringing a beer can to the dinner table, excites in her a conflict that she cannot,even with her capacious sense of humor, surmount."

There was another scene in which the mother sits on the terrace getting quietly drunk after being repeatedly insulted by the brother and starts jerking her head like a fighter remembering all the injustices done to her. Finally, she puts down her glass and says hoarsely, "I know one thing...I know that if there is an afterlife, I'm going to have a very different kind of fAM
ily. I'm going to have nothing by fabulously rich, witty, and enchanting children." I could identify with that feeling both from the children's and the mom's point of view, but, more than that, he finds exactly the right words to make that happen.
 
Cheever almost seems to take a scalpel to this fAM
ily, cutting right through to the inner layers. I also loved the costume party in which they all wore the costume of what they wished they were and the majority of women wore their wedding dresses and the men wore their football uniforms.
 
I'm still AM
biguous about "The Swimmer". Have only read it once, but feel like I should go back and read it again to make sure that I didn't miss something. This seemed like a Twilight Zone episode. Dale, you've got me in that theme from CC!
 
Barb
 
From:
Dale Short (mxdd10a@prodigy.com)

Date:

Sunday, December 20, 1998 01:46 PM

 
Barb: Cheever has those "fAM
ily dynAM
ics" down cold, doesn't he? Like a scalpel, indeed. One message I get from both his writing and John Updike's is that people with money, power, or position may look like an idyllic life from the outside--the summer homes, the country club galas--but at the core they're just as troubled and hurting as the rest of us, sometimes more so.
 
I think that last image in "Goodbye, My Brother" will always be with me:
 
Oh, what can you do with a man like that? What can you do? How can you dissuade his eye in a crowd from seeking out the cheek with acne, the infirm hand; how can you teach him to respond to the inestimable greatness of the race, the harsh surface beauty of life; how can you put his finger for him on the obdurate truths before which fear and horror are powerless? The sea that morning was iridescent and dark. My wife and my sister were swimming--Diana and Helen--and I saw their uncovered heads, black and gold in the dark water. I saw them come out and I saw that they were naked, unshy, beautiful, and full of grace, and I watched the naked women walk out of the sea.
 
By the way, I've found that there are several excellent audiobooks of Cheever. Once, I borrowed the audio of SELECTED STORIES for a long car ride to the beach, and was so caught up by them it was almost like time displacement. The drive seemed to take minutes instead of hours.
 
Dale in Ala.
 
From:
Dale Short (mxdd10a@prodigy.com)

Date:

Sunday, December 20, 1998 02:07 PM

 
Barb: Also, I think one of your comments about "Goodbye, My Brother" is particularly telling, when you say that during the most painful scene you "could identify with what the mother and the children were both feeling."
 
Maybe that's what separates literature from the pulp stuff-of-the-day. A writer like Cheever doesn't do a character as either a totally black or white hat.
 
Possibly my all-time favorite quote about life, one which I've been trying to find the source of for years now, is: "The supreme tragedy of human existence is that everyone has their reasons."
 
Dale in Ala.
 
From:
Dale Short (mxdd10a@prodigy.com)

Date:

Sunday, December 20, 1998 02:36 PM

 
Isn't "The Hartleys" a strange and bleak little story?
 
(SPOILER ALERT) * * *
Creative writing professors almost always warn their students against trying to crAM
momentous events, such as an unexpected and violent death, into the sparse frAM
e of a short story, telling them to concentrate instead on the subtle but life-changing events of day-to-day. But for reasons I don't completely understand, the ending of this Cheever story doesn't seem at all forced, to me.
 
I saw a survey once that said 40 percent of parents who lose a child will divorce within the following year. It seems to me that the opposite is happening, in "The Hartleys," that in some strange way the daughter is sacrificed so the marriage can live.
 
The final lines, when they're preparing to drive behind the hearse, are:
 
When everything was ready, the stricken couple walked across the porch, looking around them at the bewildering beauty of the night, for it was very cold and clear and the constellations seemed brighter than the lights of the inn or the village. He helped his wife into the car, and after arranging a blanket over her legs, they started the long, long drive.
 
Even the small gesture of placing the blanket seems to say their lives have changed direction. Or AM
I reading too much into this?
 
Another story that comes to mind is Truman Capote's "Children on Their Birthdays," in which the opening lines are:
 
Yesterday afternoon the six-o'clock bus ran over Miss Bobbit. I'm not sure what there is to be said about it; after all, she was only ten years old, still I know no one of us in this town will forget her...
 
But the story then takes so many turns that when the accident happens, in the last line, I was almost surprised.
 
Dale in Ala.
 
From:
R Bavetta (rbav@prodigy.com)

Date:

Sunday, December 20, 1998 05:28 PM

 
I just reread Goodbye, My Brother. I can't imagine why this strange story didn't stick with me before, certainly in the least because I also AM
a Pomeroy (albeit with one m) on my mother's side.
 
Lawrence the brother was a sourpuss, no doubt, but was anyone else struck by the almost forced quality of the gaiety of the rest of the fAM
ily? I can easily see this whole tale as a parable. Did you notice how while Lawrence was there, the narrator kept seeing everything from Lawrence's grim point of view? Perhaps these two brothers represent the two sides of a single person-representing all of us, whistling in the dark, gaily rearranging the deck chairs while all the time aware of the black waters beneath us.
Ruth
 
From:
Robert Armstrong (rla@nac.net)

Date:

Sunday, December 20, 1998 05:58 PM

 
Ruth and all, Re: GOODBYE, MY BROTHER Siblings often gravitate to various poles of behavior in order to distinguish themselves in relation to the others, and that seems to be what's happening here. Ruth has a good point regarding the endless gaiety of the group. The brother is expressing the unexpressed and the darker colors at least are being represented. He seems to have a gut reaction to what is proper behavior and outlook. How hateful he seems to the others, what a pill! But he is like a tuning fork picking up the repressed vibrations around him. After he is expelled as the personification of all the fAM
ily rancor, betcha others pick up the ball.
 
Robt
 
From:
Jane Niemeier (jniemeie@jeffco.k12.co.us)

Date:

Sunday, December 20, 1998 08:28 PM

 
I think that Mrs. Pastern in THE BRIGADIER AND THE GOLF WIDOW is very similar to Lawrence in GOODBYE, MY BROTHER.
 
"Offer her a cup of tea and she would say, 'Why, these cups look just like a set I gave to the Salvation Army last year.' Show her the new swimming pool and she would say, slapping her ankle, 'I suppose this must be where you breed your gigantic mosquitoes.' Hand her a chair and she would say, 'Why, it's a nice imitation of those Queen Anne chairs I inherited from Grandmother Delancy.'"
 
She seemed to deserve her wandering husband, but maybe she was so bitter because of her husband's affairs. Or maybe he had affairs because she was so bitter. Who knows?
Jane
 
From:
Ann Davey (davey4@prodigy.net)

Date:

Sunday, December 20, 1998 11:39 PM

 
Well, one thing I have to say about Cheever's stories is that they never bore me.
 
I liked "Goodbye, My Brother" too, not least because Lawrence reminded me a bit of my own older brother, who, in the bosom of our fAM
ily, has always seemed perpetually unhappy.
 
Especially in fAM
ilies with problems (and maybe that's all of them) people tend to get stuck in certain roles. No matter what your intention, when you get back into that fAM
iliar environment, you revert to type and the ruts of your habitual behavior. Lawrence seems to have been disliked from childhood and been typecast in the role of spoilsport. I think it's possible, in spite of his brother's certainties, that Lawrence was not such an all around miserable human being when he was away from his fAM
ily. In my own fAM
ily, I have been struck by the differences I see in relatives when they are completely on their own turf.
 
I liked "The Chimera," but I saw no hope in the story. You know you're in trouble when even your own fantasy woman betrays you. Barb, "The Swimmer" really intrigued me. I could see the swim from pool to pool only as a metaphor for the character's life unraveling. At the beginning of the swim he is welcomed by everyone. Only at the end is it obvious that he has lost money, social position, his home -- you nAM
e it. Is this story related at all to the movie THE SWIMMER with Bruce Lancaster? I never saw it, but I vaguely remember hearing of it.
 
Also, I think that the story "Torch Song" is good, but I hesitate to say much more because I don't want to spoil it. Ann
 
 
Topic:

The Stories of John Cheever (31 of 75), Read 36 times
Conf:

CONSTANT READER
From:
R Bavetta (rbav@prodigy.com)

Date:

Sunday, December 20, 1998 11:54 PM

Ann, yes, there was a movie with Burt (not Bruce) Lancaster.
 
Jane, I saw Mrs. Pastern as using her sour remarks to belittle others. Wasn't she trying to insinuate that you must have bought your cup at the Salvation Army, and belittling your pool because it bred mosquitos?
 
Ruth
 
Topic:

The Stories of John Cheever (32 of 75), Read 34 times
Conf:
CONSTANT READER
From:
Barbara Moors (ncsh82b@prodigy.com)

Date:

Monday, December 21, 1998 05:06 AM

 
Thank you, all, for making so many comments about "Goodbye My Brother". I loved reading your reactions; it expands my own. Dale, Cheever's ending to that story was very striking. It was unlike anything else I'm finding in his other stories...very personal, not in his more removed, later voice. I wondered if this was because it was an early story before he had developed his writing style. And, I wondered if the story was somewhat autobiographical. In any case, I liked it.
 
Also, I agree that the ability to make us see the motives and identify with every character is one of the signs of a masterful author. It was one of my favorite things about Tolstoy.
 
There was a definite forced gaiety to that group, Ruth. The mother's personality seemed to require it, to some extent. But, the narrator also talks how desperately he needs to relax and have fun during his short vacation. His job at the school didn't sound like it was terribly rewarding to him. This led me to thinking about whether any of them were happy in their adult lives. And, of course, they weren't. Therefore, they all come back to their beginnings and all of their childhood expectations at least once a year to frantically work on escaping their adult selves. I actually didn't think that another person would take Lawrence's negative place in this constellation once they were rid of him.
 
And, Ann, thank you for your comments on "The Swimmer". I think you are exactly right and I was too stuck in the concrete to get back and look at the more abstract. That story is looking better and better now.
 
Barb
 
Topic:

The Stories of John Cheever (33 of 75), Read 26 times
Conf:
CONSTANT READER
From:
Dale Short (mxdd10a@prodigy.com)

Date:

Monday, December 21, 1998 08:52 AM

 
Ann: I know well what you mean, about fAM
ilies reverting to all the tried-and-true head gAM
es when they assemble.
 
A woman I used to work with at the university, Betty, grew up a solitary tomboy who loved to read (she eventually becAM
e a journalist) while her one-year-younger sister was a fashion model, beauty contestant, majorette type, who eventually becAM
e a clothing designer--and incidentally, designed and sewed her own long, white dress to wear at Betty's wedding. You can imagine how close these two siblings were, over the years. [G]
 
Once, Betty cAM
e to work after a Thanksgiving spent with her mother and sister and looked absolutely drained. "I don't understand it," she told me. "I have a fAM
ily and a career and a pretty good life, but whenever I walk through Mother's door I'm eight years old again. It never fails."
 
>>Dale in Ala.
 
Topic:

The Stories of John Cheever (34 of 75), Read 25 times
Conf:
CONSTANT READER
From:
Dale Short (mxdd10a@prodigy.com)

Date:

Monday, December 21, 1998 09:06 AM

The Internet Movie DataBase says "The Swimmer" was filmed in 1968. John Cheever has the story credit, and the screenplay is by Eleanor Perry. The director was Frank Perry, whose other credits include "Mommie Dearest."
 
Here's the capsule review from Leonard Maltin:
 
Middle-aged man swims from pool to pool on journey home during hot afternoon; each pool evokes past moments and events. Fascinating, vastly underrated film adapted from John Cheever short story; Lancaster is superb, and location filming in Connecticut perfectly captures mood.
 
Sounds like something I need to look for at the rental place.
 
>>Dale in Ala.
 
Topic:

The Stories of John Cheever (35 of 75), Read 25 times
Conf:
CONSTANT READER
From:
Dale Short (mxdd10a@prodigy.com)

Date:

Monday, December 21, 1998 09:13 AM

 
Also, the movie database says "The Swimmer" was the only Cheever story that becAM
e a motion picture, but four others were adapted for TV:
 
--"Kinder" (1981) (TV)
--"The Five Forty-Eight" (1979) (TV)
--"O Youth and Beauty!" (1979) (TV)
--"The Sorrows of Gin" (1979) (TV)
 
I definitely remember seeing "The Five Forty-Eight," but not the others.
 
>>Dale in Ala.
 
Topic:

The Stories of John Cheever (36 of 75), Read 26 times
Conf:
CONSTANT READER
From:
Ann Davey (davey4@prodigy.net)

Date:

Monday, December 21, 1998 09:21 AM

 
Thanks for the information, Dale. And Ruth, of course I meant Burt Lancaster, not Bruce. Where was my mind?
 
Ann
 
Topic:

The Stories of John Cheever (37 of 75), Read 27 times
Conf:
CONSTANT READER
From:
Dale Short (mxdd10a@prodigy.com)

Date:

Monday, December 21, 1998 09:29 AM

 
There's also a John Cheever Web page, at http://members.tripod.com/~Mike_Reichold/JohnCheever.html
 
It contains a number of essays on Cheever and his work, including this one by author Michael Chabon from Salon:
 
I read "The Swimmer" for the first time on my bed in the Maryland suburbs, one winter afternoon when I was sixteen or seventeen. I'd been skimming through a battered paperback anthology my grandfather had passed along to me -- "100 Stories Ruined by English Teachers," I think it was called -- starting one after another worn-out old chestnut, quickly moving on, when I reached the fAM
ous, classic, puzzling first paragraph that begins, "It was one of those midsummer Sundays when everyone sits around saying, 'I drank too much last night.'"
 
I knew nothing of such midsummer Sundays, in fact; but I read on, and soon found myself lost in the weird, lovely dreAM
land of John Cheever's greatest story.
 
"The Swimmer" is a masterpiece of mystery, language and sorrow. It starts out, on a perfect summer morning, as the record of a splendid exploit -- Neddy Merrill's quest to swim the eight miles from the house of his friends, the Westerhazys, to his own, via the swimming pools of fashionable Shady Hill -- and ends up as a kind of ghost story, with night and autumn coming on, in a thunderstorm, at the door to a haunted house.
 
Cheever's mastery lies in the handling of Neddy's gradual, devastating progress from boundless optimism to bottomless despair, from summer to fall, from swimming pool to swimming pool, no two alike, each described with Cheever's lyrical precision. This progress Cheever figures through a careful manipulation of the marks of seasonal change -- the leaves on trees, the wheeling of the constellations -- so that as we read the story we feel time passing, before our eyes; feel Neddy losing heart, growing weary, getting old.
 
The story has mythic echoes -- the passage of a divine swimmer across the calendar toward his doom -- and yet is always only the story of one bewildered man, approaching the end of his life, journeying homeward, in a pair of bathing trunks, across the countryside where he lost everything that ever meant something to him.
 
(Michael Chabon is the author of "The Mysteries of Pittsburgh" and "Wonder Boys.")
 
 
Topic:

The Stories of John Cheever (38 of 75), Read 28 times
Conf:
CONSTANT READER
From:
R Bavetta (rbav@prodigy.com)

Date:

Monday, December 21, 1998 11:01 AM

 
Thanks for the Cheever URL, Dale. I'll go over there as soon as I finish here. One thing I've discovered, if I click on it now, I'll be making and official exit from the board and when I come back they'll tell me I have no new notes.

I've read a biography of Cheever and AM
now frantically trying to remember the details. I do remember that he struggled with alcoholism and a homosexual tendency throughout his life, and that his marriage was not entirely happy. I believe there was a brother, and that the relationship with his brother went through ups and downs.

Parts of Cheever's journal were excerpted in the New Yorker about five years ago. I found them very interesting reading, and as well-written as his other works. I was going to spring for the book, but somehow never did.

Ruth

Topic:

The Stories of John Cheever (39 of 75), Read 24 times
Conf:
CONSTANT READER
From:
Robert Armstrong (rla@nac.net)

Date:

Monday, December 21, 1998 04:39 PM

Has anyone read John Cheever's FALCONER? I read it in the 70's when it was published and parts stay with me. It is an account of an innocent man's experience in prison and had the sAM
e fluid style of writing which didn't call attention to itself. Cheever's writing causes me to focus on what he's writing about, rather than how it is written, as has already been alluded to in this thread. The art analogy that comes to mind is paintings by Vermeer which have me pondering his subject matter, such as the way sunshine pours into a room from a window, as opposed to pondering his painting technique. In contrast, Cormac McCarthy has me ever engaged in how he is telling his tale, the very heft of his sentences weighing equally with what they are describing, in the way van Gogh's brush strokes and whirls of color are integral to the appreciation of his landscapes. I'm enjoying Cheever's stories however, I've not gotten to nearly enough of them.

Robt

 
Topic:

The Stories of John Cheever (40 of 75), Read 23 times
Conf:
CONSTANT READER
From:
R Bavetta (rbav@prodigy.com)

Date:

Monday, December 21, 1998 06:47 PM

 
I read FALCONER years ago, Robt, and I think I read BULLET PARK. Cheever's shorts (the written kind) are my favorites, though.

Very interesting analogy to painting. I'm going to have to ponder that for a while. In McCarthy, one is constantly aware of the writing, sometimes I think the story is but a vehicle for the writing.

Maybe it's because I write, too, that I find myself conscious of what Cheever is doing, though, especially when a particularly well-turned phrase slides gracefully into my consciousness. But there's no doubt as to his contrast with McCarthy.

Ruth

 
Topic:
The Stories of John Cheever (41 of 75), Read 23 times
CONSTANT READER
From:
R Bavetta (rbav@prodigy.com)
Date:
Monday, December 21, 1998 07:15 PM
Using the URL furnished by Dale, I've downloaded a critical article entitled John Cheever: Parody and the Suburban Aesthetic. I haven't yet finished reading it myself. Since it's rather long, it begs to be printed out and pursued with coffee cup or glass of wine at hand and feet on the coffee table. With that in mind, I'm just going to attach it here as a file, and if people are interested they can download it. Ruth  
Topic:
The Stories of John Cheever (42 of 75), Read 23 times, 1 File Attachment
CONSTANT READER
From:
R Bavetta (rbav@prodigy.com)
Date:
Monday, December 21, 1998 07:16 PM
Using the URL furnished by Dale, I've downloaded a critical article entitled John Cheever: Parody and the Suburban Aesthetic. I haven't yet finished reading it myself. Since it's rather long, it begs to be printed out and pursued with coffee cup or glass of wine at hand and feet on the coffee table. With that in mind, I'm just going to attach it here as a file, and if people are interested they can download it. Ruth JOHNCHEEVER.DOC  
Topic:
The Stories of John Cheever (43 of 75), Read 23 times
CONSTANT READER
From:
Ann Davey (davey4@prodigy.net)
Date:
Monday, December 21, 1998 09:54 PM
In honor of the season, I wonder if we could discuss Cheever's story "Christmas Is a Sad Season For the Poor." Boy, I'm willing to bet that Christmas was never fun and gAM
es at the Cheevers, but what a thought provoking story. I would like to see it assigned in school along with O'Henry's saccharine "Gift of the Magi," but I guess it wouldn't be politically correct. Cheever sees gift giving to the less fortunate as a way for the giver to enjoy his power. Do you agree? Where I work, employees get together to sponsor "worthy" fAM
ilies for Christmas, and everyday the newspaper tries to drum up support for the Christmas Goodfellows progrAM
by featuring a story about some poor, uneducated mother with half a dozen children who can't afford to buy Christmas presents. What do you think of this aspect of the season? Thanks for the information on "The Swimmer," Dale. I can't quite see it as a movie. It would be interesting to see how they expanded it. The story has this imaginative, surreal quality that I fear would be ruined by making it too concrete. Robt, I really enjoyed your painting analogy. Unlike most of the people here, I've never gotten into Cormac McCarthy. Ruth, Cheever was an excellent suggestion and an author I'd never have tried on my own. I AM
not usually a fan of short stories, but his are so self-contained and complete. I can see why he is considered a master of the form. Ann  
Topic:
The Stories of John Cheever (44 of 75), Read 20 times
CONSTANT READER
From:
Jane Niemeier (jniemeie@jeffco.k12.co.us)
Date:
Tuesday, December 22, 1998 08:52 PM
Ann, I agree with your analysis of the Cheever "Christmas" story. Sometimes people give gifts to assuage their own guilt for being healthy and comfortable in a material sense. I have about 60 pages left in this book. Today, I was quite irritated with Cheever's view of women. Wives, in the latter part of the book, seem to be breaking down and crying because they have given up a wonderful career in the theater or as a singer. They are rude and obnoxious to their husbands who always try to placate them. I did like the satire involved in MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. The books that the narrator can buy are trash, so he has to go into the public restrooms to find literature. BTW, what does the title mean? I also read THE SWIMMER today and loved it. I agree with your analysis. Things seemed to be going well (dare I say, swimmingly) until the storm comes. Cheever seems to have something against men and women who look younger than their years. They seem to come to sad ends. Jane  
Topic:
The Stories of John Cheever (45 of 75), Read 24 times
CONSTANT READER
From:
R Bavetta (rbav@prodigy.com)
Date:
Wednesday, December 23, 1998 01:10 AM
At least one story irritated me in that regard, Jane. Have you read An Educated Woman yet? I've been intending to post on it and ask everyone what they think is going on here. The Christmas story was very interesting. At first I thought it was just funny, his going up and down collecting all those drinks and all that food. Then, in true Cheeverian fashion, there was an unexpected twist. I've read all these stories more than once before. But there are so many of them, I'm often surprised all over again on rereading. MENE, MENE, TEKEL,UPHARSIN is the handwriting on the wall from the Old TestAM
ent, isn't it? Ruth  
Topic:
The Stories of John Cheever (46 of 75), Read 23 times
CONSTANT READER
From:
Barbara Moors (ncsh82b@prodigy.com)
Date:
Wednesday, December 23, 1998 10:19 AM
I've had the sAM
e reaction to women in a few of Cheever's stories and, since I'm not even half-way through the book, I assumed I'd see more. The one that bothered me the most so far was "Torch Song." He lost his ability in that story to show us the woman's humanity. She becAM
e a sort of caricature. I think I detect in Cheever the sAM
e flaw as in Updike, that blind spot sometimes where women are concerned. There's a common viewpoint that I notice in many men who cAM
e of age in the 50's. They seem to have an image of women who take away what is vital about men and are of some other species impossible to understand. I'm trying to ignore it so as to not affect my appreciation of what is so outstanding about Cheever. In the reading of these early stories, I'm finding that I like the ones best that involve working people...not a clear description but as close as I can get. I loved "Summer Farmer". What a perfect little slice of life that scraped bare the awful slip that can happen even in a person who has such good intentions! And, maybe it exposed the vanity that we feel when we are trying to be our most liberal? I also liked "The Pot of Gold" very much. Cheever is masterful with the details of struggling poverty in this one. I loved the difference in how the narrator perceived the noises of the city as his perspective on his own promise changed. I'm not sure how I feel about the ending though. It was very satisfying, but maybe a little unlikely. Barb  
Topic:
The Stories of John Cheever (47 of 75), Read 27 times
CONSTANT READER
From:
R Bavetta (rbav@prodigy.com)
Date:
Wednesday, December 23, 1998 11:50 AM
Barb, I'm not absolutely sure if I've got the right mental file out of the cerebral file cabinet, but it seems to me that I remember that Cheever was not, so to speak, to the manor born. He was not a product of the kind of society he most often wrote about, the well-to-do eastern suburbanite. Could be that's why his working people stories ring true to you. Ruth  
Topic:
The Stories of John Cheever (48 of 75), Read 27 times
CONSTANT READER
From:
Dale Short (mxdd10a@prodigy.com)
Date:
Wednesday, December 23, 1998 12:33 PM
Ann & All: Call me a grinch, but I've always been a little turned off by the pomp and sanctimony of Christmas ritual. We all should help the less fortunate, but poverty is poverty 365 days a year, and I don't see Christmas as being a worse time than any other. And what about the requisite Christmas Eve house fire on the local TV news? They'll travel 100 miles to show the smoking ruin and say how sad it is. Don't houses burn every day? If I lost mine, I don't think I'd be at all heartened if it happened on Labor Day rather than at Christmas. Grouch, grouch. >>Dale in icy Ala.  
Topic:
The Stories of John Cheever (49 of 75), Read 26 times
CONSTANT READER
From:
Ann Davey (davey4@prodigy.net)
Date:
Wednesday, December 23, 1998 01:44 PM
Barb, I had similar impressions about Cheever's attitude towards women. I liked what you said about them sapping men's vitality --ah, if only we had that much power! I did like "Torch Song," however, because of that very neat twist at the end. It caught me by surprise and I like that. Dale, I understand what you're saying about Christmas. Tom and I both used to work for the welfare department in another life time and when I read these Christmas sob stories in the paper about the woman with half a dozen children with no father in sight, who isn't working and can't afford gifts for her children, and who invariably wants to be a nurse someday if she can just get her GED, I tend to be cynical. I know from experience that there are lots of people out there who do the best they can and still need a hand, but I think they generally have too much pride to submit to an interview and pictures of their children for the newspaper's Christmas Good Fellows progrAM
. I have a lot of respect for the Salvation Army based on the good that I saw them do, and that's the organization I donate to at Christmas. Well, now that I have that off my chest I guess I better stop being a Grinch long enough to wrap presents and start cooking for Christmas Eve. Ann  
Topic:
The Stories of John Cheever (50 of 75), Read 20 times
CONSTANT READER
From:
Jane Niemeier (jniemeie@jeffco.k12.co.us)
Date:
Thursday, December 24, 1998 08:51 PM
TORCH SONG didn't bother me at all, because I know women who are like Joan. They just don't seem to be able to find the right man. The stories that bother me come later in this book. The women are married women who are always in a bad humor and who treat their husbands like dirt. The husbands, of course, are loving and trying to be understanding of the wives's woes. Phooey, I say. I finished the book today, and I loved the last story because it made me laugh. THE JEWELS OF THE CABOTS. I loved the scene that told about Mrs. Cabot's three topics that she spoke about at the narrator's school. "She has three subjects: My Trip to Alaska (slides), The Evils of Drink, and The Evils of Tobacco.....She made smoking irresistible, and if I die of lung cancer I shall blAM
e Mrs. Cabot." Don't you just love Mrs. Cabot. Anyone who cleans her diAM
onds and hangs them outside to dry is asking for trouble. Jane  
Topic:
The Stories of John Cheever (51 of 75), Read 21 times
CONSTANT READER
From:
Dale Short (mxdd10a@prodigy.com)
Date:
Friday, December 25, 1998 09:59 AM
I don't know how I was expecting "Torch Song" to end, but this wasn't it. I guess we've all known at least one "Joan," a woman who's a veritable magnet for abusive men. (The reverse is probably true also, but such relationships somehow doesn't seem as visible.) I was surprised when Jack turned on her, at the end. My favorite lines were Joan's description of a party she'd been to the night before; seemed to sum up New York life in those years: "We went to the theatre. Afterward, somebody asked us up to his place. I don't know who he was. It was one of those places. They're so strange. There were some meat-eating plants and a collection of Chinese snuff bottles. Why do people collect Chinese snuff bottles? We all autographed a lAM
pshade, as I remember, but I don't remember much." >>Dale in Ala.  
Topic:
The Stories of John Cheever (52 of 75), Read 21 times
CONSTANT READER
From:
Ann Davey (davey4@prodigy.net)
Date:
Friday, December 25, 1998 10:33 AM
Dale and Joan, Don't you think that Cheever was saying that Joan deserved the abuse, that she was some kind of black widow who attracted ailing men to her web and then snuffed them out? Ann, hoping you'll excuse that mixed metaphor  
Topic:
The Stories of John Cheever (53 of 75), Read 24 times
CONSTANT READER
From:
Dale Short (mxdd10a@prodigy.com)
Date:
Friday, December 25, 1998 12:09 PM
Ann: Well, ol' Joan's consorts did have a pretty high fatality rate, didn't they? And looking back at the first paragraph, Jack said she always looked as if the undertakers had just left. But she didn't really seem to benefit by all this...i.e., a gold-digger. The ad agency guy even took off with her money. A complex story, I think, and developed so gradually that I didn't fully understand what was up until the last pages. >>Dale in Ala.  
Topic:
The Stories of John Cheever (54 of 75), Read 19 times
CONSTANT READER
From:
Barbara Moors (ncsh82b@prodigy.com)
Date:
Friday, December 25, 1998 03:35 PM
I think what bothered me about "The Torch Song" was that it reminded me of the common assumption when I was growing up that a woman who was abused had somehow caused the whole situation...that she was at fault and "asking for it." I've known women whose self-images are so low that they are attracted to men who treat them badly. However, I don't think that this necessarily places them in that neat little former cubby-hole. Also, by the end of the story, the narrator was implying that Joan somehow caused the downfall of these men and it seemed obvious to me that they were headed there before they ever met Joan. Then, again, realizing that he was now attractive to Joan made him wrench himself out of the rut he was in, so maybe it wasn't all bad. I'm still enjoying the "working people" stories the most. I loved "Clancy in the Tower of Babel" (what a terrific story) and "Christmas is a Sad Season for the Poor." I've read the Christmas one before somewhere in a collection of short stories and remembered it in surprising detail. I also just finished "The Superintendent" and felt like it was one of the creAM
in this collection too. When I get a chance, I'm going to read some more about Cheever's background. It certainly would fit if he was "not to the manor born" as you said, Ruth. His working class people have so much more texture to them and seem happier even when they are struggling with dilemmas. Barb  
Topic:
The Stories of John Cheever (55 of 75), Read 21 times
CONSTANT READER
From:
R Bavetta (rbav@prodigy.com)
Date:
Friday, December 25, 1998 04:22 PM
Regarding Cheever's attitude toward women--- which rankles me at times, too,---I think we have to remember the generation that he was born into. It doesn't seem to me that he's purposefully putting women down. It's just that he wears the blinders placed on him by time and place. Ruth  
Topic:
The Stories of John Cheever (56 of 75), Read 21 times
CONSTANT READER
From:
Dale Short (mxdd10a@prodigy.com)
Date:
Friday, December 25, 1998 09:41 PM
Ruth: Wow! I think thou hast spoken a mouthful of wisdom, there, re: Cheever "wearing the blinders of his time and place." As do we all. Who could hope for a soul more sensitive than Cheever, or more gifted, or more articulate as a writer? But still so outre at times. And out of the millions of human beings who committed billions of heartfelt words to paper during that time, why are HIS books in print? I think it's a gracious few of us who realize the limitations of life and art before we're incorporeal. Which brings to my mind two of my favorite quotes on the human condition, with which I'm sure I've bored CRs over the ages... #1 comes from our next-door neighbor Bill O'Nihill, which he said to me at a late-night party not nearly as debaucherous as Cheever's: "Think about it. Every thing that has ever existed in the universe was, at some point, state-of-the-art." #2 comes from a philosophy professor at the university here, who has published tons of books and essays in the category of "moral philosophy," e.g. euthanasia, et al, and whom I greatly admire. I once asked him to speculate on what historians 100-200 years in the future would say were our "blind spots" as a society in the late 20th Century, and he laughed out loud. "If we knew what our blind spots were, they wouldn't be blind spots, would they?" But after I badgered him a bit, he predicted that the 20th Century would be viewed by historians, centuries from now, not by its wars and political upheavals but by the fact that it was a turning point in human history in which women finally began to be recognized as co-equal with males. >>Dale in Ala., who hopes to find and post Dean JAM
es Rachels' essay on euthanasia, which blew (and still blows) my mind  
Topic:
The Stories of John Cheever (57 of 75), Read 18 times
CONSTANT READER
From:
Barbara Moors (ncsh82b@prodigy.com)
Date:
Saturday, December 26, 1998 08:23 AM
I absolutely agree with you, Ruth. That's why I'm trying so hard to ignore that facet of his writing. Writers who do this leave a little cold place in me when I read those particular stories though. It's always been my sAM
e frustration with John Updike. At least, with age, I've learned to confine it to the writing that actually reflects those attitudes and not the whole body of work. Barb  
Topic:
The Stories of John Cheever (58 of 75), Read 22 times
CONSTANT READER
From:
Barbara Moors (ncsh82b@prodigy.com)
Date:
Sunday, December 27, 1998 09:09 AM
I read another story this morning that I thought was absolutely brilliant, "The Day the Pig Fell Into the Well." It starts with one of my favorite opening paragraphs: In the summer, when the Nudd fAM
ily gathered at Whitebeach CAM
p, in the Adirondacks, there was always a night when one of them would ask, "Remember the day the pig fell into the well?" Then, as if the opening note of a sextet had been sounded, the others would all rush in to take their fAM
iliar parts, like those fAM
ilies who sing Gilbert and Sullivan, and the recital would go on for an hour or more. The perfect days--and there had been hundreds of them--seemed to have passed into their consciousness without a memory, and they returned to this chronicle of small disasters as if it were the genesis of summer. The rest of the story is an intricate ballet of sorts mixing time and characters that ranks with the best of anything I've read. I'm starting to think that another strength of his is this observation of fAM
ily groups...he is a master at it. The combination of that and his art with language knocks me out. Barb  
Topic:
The Stories of John Cheever (59 of 75), Read 23 times
CONSTANT READER
From:
Dale Short (mxdd10a@prodigy.com)
Date:
Sunday, December 27, 1998 10:13 AM
Barb: What a gorgeous Cheever paragraph. He's right, that the "perfect" days pass without memory and it's the "chronicle of small disasters" we mark our time by. Odd, too, how pigs are such a root (ho, ho) source for literature. One of my favorite E.B. White stories is "The Death of a Pig," and there was the popular novel many moons back, A DAY NO PIGS WOULD DIE. I'm sure there are tons of others I'm forgetting. >>Dale in Ala., suddenly hungry for a BLT  
Topic:
The Stories of John Cheever (60 of 75), Read 24 times
CONSTANT READER
From:
R Bavetta (rbav@prodigy.com)
Date:
Sunday, December 27, 1998 10:38 AM
Dale, not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin. Ruth  
Topic:
The Stories of John Cheever (61 of 75), Read 20 times
CONSTANT READER
From:
Dale Short (mxdd10a@prodigy.com)
Date:
Sunday, December 27, 1998 08:49 PM
Barb, Ruth & All: This was the first time I'd read Cheever's "The Day the Pig Fell Into the Well," and I can't say that I recall another story by anybody quite like it. On the surface it seems to be just a pleasant jumble of recollections and local trivia, but the sum of it is heartbreakingly beautiful. It's as if the piece is a love song to a place, and an elegy of a fAM
ily, all climaxing with those uncompromising last lines, "It had begun to blow outside, and the house creaked gently, like a hull when the wind takes up the sail. The room with the people in it looked enduring and secure, although in the morning they would all be gone." The only thing I can compare the story to is Virginia Woolf's novel TO THE LIGHTHOUSE, which is about the highest praise I know how to give as TTL is, for my money, the high mark of 20th Century fiction. Seems to me that the characters and specifics and actions of both works, however compelling in themselves, are finally there only in service of the larger theme: the briefness of life, and the bittersweet impermanence of things. But again, "hopeful in an odd way." What a beautiful piece of writing, and one that will be with me for quite a while. >>Dale in Ala.  
Topic:
The Stories of John Cheever (62 of 75), Read 18 times
CONSTANT READER
From:
Barbara Moors (ncsh82b@prodigy.com)
Date:
Sunday, December 27, 1998 09:54 PM
Really interesting comparison, Dale. It does remind me a bit of To The Lighthouse. The time changes weaving through each other and the seemingly trivial occurrences which then all add up to a tremendous whole at the end.... I loved the part you quoted at the end, but there is also a section on the page before that which I bracketed and reread a few times: Mrs. Nudd looked around her and the time and the place seemed strangely important. This is not an imitation, she thought, this is not the product of custom, this is the unique place, the unique air, where my children have spent the best of themselves. The realization that none of them had done well made her sink back in her chair. She squinted the tears out of her eyes. What had made the summer always an island, she thought; what had made it such a small island? What mistakes had they made? What had they done wrong? They had loved their neighbors, respected the force of modesty, held honor above gain. Then where had they lost their competence, their freedom, their greatness? Why should these good and gentle people who surrounded her seem like the figures in a tragedy? I don't think I've read anything in a while that was quite so poignant. I'm feeling kind of let down by the next few stories after this one, except for Just One More Time which is a nice little nugget of irony. By the way, I'm keeping a list in the back of the book of my favorite stories so that I can go back to them. Would be interested to hear what everyone else's favorites were. I'll list mine when I finish. Barb  
Topic:
The Stories of John Cheever (63 of 75), Read 17 times
CONSTANT READER
From:
Dale Short (mxdd10a@prodigy.com)
Date:
Sunday, December 27, 1998 10:26 PM
Barb: Goodness, yes. The paragraph about Mrs. Nudd's failed hopes tore me up, as well. "This is not an imitation, she thought, this is not the product of custom, this is the unique place, the unique air, where my children have spent the best of themselves." Pardon me for thinking out loud, particularly at this late hour, but I'm wondering if this attitude might be a key to the the lives of the privileged fAM
ilies Cheever (and Updike) writes so beautifully about. Mrs. Nudd's expectation--an impossible one--seems to me one that could only occur to people whose class and money (all relative, I know), and perhaps time period, give them the insulation and stability of a single place where a whole generation can grow up, if only in summers, and even with however mixed results. I'm sure it wouldn't occur to me or to the vast majority of the people I grew up with. Our lives seemed so buffeted by deaths and divorces and illnesses and failed farms and financial loss and burned houses and land condemned for highway construction, that the notion of "uniqueness" was beaten out of us at a pretty young age. Till this day, merely having breath, food, and a roof--and books!--seems to me an immense blessing. And Constant Reader...hey, it's an embarrassment of riches I could never have dreAM
ed of just a few years ago. Or AM
I reading too much into a few lines? OK, off of soapbox and bound for sleep. >>Dale in Ala.  
Topic:
The Stories of John Cheever (64 of 75), Read 16 times
CONSTANT READER
From:
Barbara Moors (ncsh82b@prodigy.com)
Date:
Tuesday, December 29, 1998 04:16 PM
Dale, I sometimes think that these privileged fAM
ilies that Cheever writes about are sort of a fantasy of his own. He seems to build these constellations that form behind their suburban fort. Once in a while, he fantasizes that they do well (but very rarely). More often, he seems compelled (though he'd rather not) to tell us what would really happen. The people in them would like to believe the fantasy though, I think. Does that make any sense? Barb  
Topic:
The Stories of John Cheever (65 of 75), Read 20 times
CONSTANT READER
From:
R Bavetta (rbav@prodigy.com)
Date:
Tuesday, December 29, 1998 05:38 PM
I think that makes absolute sense, Barb. I've often wondered if there really are suburbs like Shady Hill. I know there are people like he writes about. I've met them. I know there are pleasant suburbs with enough swimming pools to swim one end to the other. But the endless round of cocktails and dances and other etceteras... Do people live like that? Ruth  
Topic:
The Stories of John Cheever (66 of 75), Read 20 times
CONSTANT READER
From:
Jane Niemeier (jniemeie@jeffco.k12.co.us)
Date:
Tuesday, December 29, 1998 09:03 PM
Ruth, Barb, and Dale, People like this do exist. Just look at the children of wealthy people, particularly children of celebrities, who cannot make it in life. I think that this is because they have no incentive to make it. If they fail, they know that there is always enough money from Mom and Dad to support them. I can think of some children in my own fAM
ily. I finally quit sending them Christmas and birthday checks because they didn't even cash them. Also, think of THE BONFIRE OF THE VANITIES by Tom Wolf. I know that this is a satire, but I read that this is the type of life that Donald and Ivana Trump led. If they weren't invited somewhere every single night, she was upset. Jane  
Topic:
The Stories of John Cheever (67 of 75), Read 22 times
CONSTANT READER
From:
R Bavetta (rbav@prodigy.com)
Date:
Tuesday, December 29, 1998 09:11 PM
But aren't those people the rich, Jane? Cheever's characters are middle class or upper middle class, don't you think? Ruth  
Topic:
The Stories of John Cheever (68 of 75), Read 19 times
CONSTANT READER
From:
Tonya Presley (tpresley@swbell.net)
Date:
Wednesday, December 30, 1998 12:50 AM
I didn't read the stories, so I haven't been reading this topic, either. But, cAM
e across this quote tonight and just wanted to share it: His [Cheever's] definition of a good editor was "a man I think charming, who sends me large checks, praises my work, my physical beauty, and my sexual prowess, and who has a stranglehold on the publisher and the bank." I like it. Tonya  
Topic:
The Stories of John Cheever (69 of 75), Read 19 times
CONSTANT READER
From:
Barbara Moors (ncsh82b@prodigy.com)
Date:
Wednesday, December 30, 1998 08:20 AM
Apart from the parties and drinking, I think that Cheever actually longed to have the world that these suburban fAM
ilies created be a protection against something. The little bit of reading I've done about Cheever makes me think that even more strongly. However, in so many of the stories, the environment that the people are in causes its own problems...or the tragedies just come anyway. It must have been his intellect and/or experience that recognized this apart from his emotional needs. I'm finding that I appreciate the quality of his writing just as much in the suburban stories, but they don't grab me emotionally as much as the other ones. I must say though that the irony of the man who comes home from work after surviving a plane crash in "The Country Husband" and can't get any member of his fAM
ily to leave their fighting (the children) or social whirl (the wife) long enough to hear about it was pretty striking. It's interesting to me that this was written from the viewpoint of the beleaguered suburban husband. However, with all the alterations in sex roles over the past 20 years, I totally relate to his feelings. Can't you just see him fantasizing one day about whether anything in his fAM
ily would stop if he cAM
e home and told them that he was in a plane wreck? Barb  
Topic:
The Stories of John Cheever (70 of 75), Read 21 times
CONSTANT READER
From:
S Thomsen (susant3@aol.com)
Date:
Wednesday, December 30, 1998 09:13 AM
Hey, you guys. I've enjoyed your notes about Cheever, even though I haven't been able to read the stories this time around. In his way, isn't Cheever using the suburban milieu as a kind of metaphor for alienation? I read the Swimming Pool story in the last year or so, and it strikes me as so incredibly sad. Life in the NY suburbs is certainly no longer a constant cocktail party (more like a constant kids' soccer gAM
e), but I sometimes doubt it was even back then. It's a very complete world that Cheever describes, but to an extent, isn't it his creation? A heightened version of what he saw? (Now, before I expouse any more theories, I'd better go read the stories! [g]) There's a beautiful poem by Dana Gioia called "In Cheever Country," and if I get a chance, I'll try to post it. Susan  
Topic:
The Stories of John Cheever (71 of 75), Read 24 times
CONSTANT READER
From:
R Bavetta (rbav@prodigy.com)
Date:
Wednesday, December 30, 1998 11:15 AM
I think you're absolutely right, Susan. Shady Hill and its cousin towns are a Cheever creation. And although it's interesting to speculate on the veracity of those places and their martini quotient, I don't think it matters in the least whether Cheever was telling the absolute truth or not. What matters is the emotional truth. Ruth  
Topic:
The Stories of John Cheever (72 of 75), Read 21 times
CONSTANT READER
From:
Dale Short (mxdd10a@prodigy.com)
Date:
Wednesday, December 30, 1998 01:00 PM
Barb & All: I think Cheever was acutely aware of the human need to believe that the little world we create for ourself and our fAM
ily is "a protection against something," though deep down we know it's not. Flannery O'Connor once said that she chose poor, down-and-out people as her characters because "their insulation had all been rubbed off." Maybe Cheever is taking the opposite route, showing how unravelled lives can become despite having all the "insulation" one could reasonably expect in this life. (An aside: In one of O'Connor's letters, she recounts to a friend, with great AM
usement, how a fairly well-to-do aunt of hers had approached her tactfully to suggest that, what with her books beginning to achieve some critical and popular success, she should "consider writing about a better class of people.") In any event, I can testify that Cheever's marathon party-goers are alive and real in suburban BirminghAM
, Ala.--in particular one Mountain Brook, which has the highest per capita income of any municipality in the state. Or at least they were alive, many moons ago, when I worked as a newspaper photographer and was assigned to the "social beat" on weekends. Sometimes I had to cover five and six parties a night, racing between country clubs and mansions, and it was mostly the sAM
e faces, week after week. And there was not much real "gaiety" going on. At the risk of over-generalizing, it seems that the guys were there mostly for the free-flowing cocktails (and some occasional business networking); for the wives, it was a whole way of life--a competitive sport, in fact. An elaborate gAM
e was being played out of who did or didn't get invited to whatever gala, and why. And I got frequent tongue-lashings from hostesses upset that my paper's editor ran her party picture just three columns wide while so-and-so's always got four columns, at least. I don't miss those days at all, but they were certainly an eye-opener. >>Dale in Ala.  
Topic:
The Stories of John Cheever (73 of 75), Read 16 times
CONSTANT READER
From:
Jane Niemeier (jniemeie@jeffco.k12.co.us)
Date:
Wednesday, December 30, 1998 09:06 PM
Dale, I certainly agree with you that the idle rich are still active. I mentioned this in my note last night. I hear tales from friends who have very rich friends. The women don't work, don't do housework, don't have to drive themselves, don't cook, so what else is there to do but compete with parties. A teacher's life doesn't sound so bad compared to that. Jane  
Topic:
The Stories of John Cheever (74 of 75), Read 1 times
CONSTANT READER
From:
Barbara Moors (ncsh82b@prodigy.com)
Date:
Saturday, January 02, 1999 09:05 AM
I'm down to the last 200 pages of Cheever's stories and AM
feeling immersed. I've liked almost all of the stories that are set in Italy. I noticed in our notes that Jane felt the sAM
e way. The one that was most striking to me was "Clementina". I was AM
azed that he was able to do a woman's perspective that well...particularly an Italian woman's with all of the differences in perspective that another culture would bring. I also liked "Boy in Rome" though I didn't like the little interlude in the middle written from the author's perspective. I didn't understand what it added to the story and it was distracting. Sherry, you were right about my feelings about "Death of Justina". What a wonderful send-up of suburban bureaucracy! And, I was surprised at my reaction to "Just Tell Me Who It Was". These were two characters who couldn't be farther removed from any of my attitudes. And, yet, Cheever made me understand them and empathize with both of them. This is that little touch of Tolstoy-like genius that I love. By the way, I didn't think that Maria had been unfaithful. She just wanted to test her wings and grow a bit. What a scary concept for Will! Barb  
Topic:
The Stories of John Cheever (75 of 75), Read 2 times
CONSTANT READER
From:
ANN DAVEY (daveyttga@aol.com)
Date:
Saturday, January 02, 1999 10:23 AM
Barb, I didn't think that Maria had strayed too far yet, but there was no doubt in my mind that she would. Ann From: Barbara Moors (ncsh82b@prodigy.com)
Date:
Sunday, January 10, 1999 07:28 AM
I AM
probably the last one still thinking about the Cheever stories, but need to register this one last opinion. I finished the stories Friday night, but not really.... I started each of the last 10 stories, read for a page or so and then was unable to finish them (the exception to this was "The Swimmer" which gets better and better with thought and time). At first, I thought that my reaction was due to the pervasive bitterness and alienation in all of them. However, I don't think that the actual writing is up to Cheever's standard either. Many of the earlier stories were such perfect little nuggets that I was even more disappointed by the final ones. I hate leaving Cheever with this bitter taste and wish that they had been left out of the collection. Did anyone else have that feeling? Also, I wanted to include the titles of some of my favorites here. Again, I know that everyone else is probably on to thinking of other books, but would love to see your favorites if you can look back a minute. Good-bye, My Brother The Summer Farmer The Pot of Gold Clancy in the Tower of Babel The Day the Pig Fell into the Well The 548 Just One More Time The Wrysons Just Tell Me Who It Was The Golden Age Clementina Barb  
Topic:
The Stories of John Cheever (77 of 79), Read 10 times
CONSTANT READER
From:
ANN DAVEY (daveyttga@aol.com)
Date:
Sunday, January 10, 1999 11:45 AM
Barb, Thanks for the list of stories. I renewed the Cheever book from the library and want to read some more now that I have finished TENDER IS THE NIGHT. So far I have just skipped around, but all of the stories I have read seem to have a cynical, bitter tone. I AM
curious to read more on your list. Ann  
Topic:
The Stories of John Cheever (78 of 79), Read 12 times
CONSTANT READER
From:
Barbara Moors (ncsh82b@prodigy.com)
Date:
Sunday, January 10, 1999 12:57 PM
Oh good, Ann. Be sure and come back to tell me what you think of them. Barb  
Topic:
The Stories of John Cheever (79 of 79), Read 10 times
CONSTANT READER
From:
Jane Niemeier (jniemeie@jeffco.k12.co.us)
Date:
Sunday, January 10, 1999 04:39 PM
Barb, I liked the stories that you have listed as well. I took the book back to the library, or I would add some more. I do remember reading one of the last few stories and laughing while I was reading it. I can't give you the title right now. I AM
now immersed in ASBSALOM, ABSALOM! but it is S-L-O-W going. Jane From: Sherry Keller (shkell@earthlink.net)
Date:
Monday, January 11, 1999 08:10 AM
While I was reading the stories, I marked ones I especially liked. But I didn’t start this until I had been going awhile. If I reread them, I would probably mark all of the first few. Also, there may be more, I didn’t page through the book particularly carefully. I agree with you Barb, his first stories where his best and they becAM
e increasingly bitter and with less hope at the end. I don’t know if I could discuss any of them without a reread, and I’m not ready to do that quite yet. Clancy in the Tower of Babel The Day the Pig Fell into the Well Torch Song The Wrysons The Country Husband The Death of Justina The Chimera The Brigadier and the Golf Widow Montraldo (mostly for the first line---”The first time I robbed Tiffany’s it was raining.”) The Ocean From: Jane Niemeier (jniemeie@jeffco.k12.co.us)
Date:
Monday, January 11, 1999 08:29 PM
Sherry, I loved that line, too, "The first time I robbed Tiffany's it was raining..." That line is a great hook. Jane From: Barbara Moors (ncsh82b@prodigy.com)
Date:
Thursday, January 14, 1999 07:12 PM
Sherry, I finally had time to go back and look at the Cheever stories that you listed that weren't on my list. It's interesting...a number of them, I didn't really enjoy, like "Torch Song", but I consistently agree with you that they were exceptionally well-written. I loved the irony of "The Brigadier and the Golf Widow". I did think, though, that he wrapped it all up a bit too quickly at the end. "The Country Husband" should have been on my list. Despite his all too fAM
iliar agenda, that was an excellent story. I didn't read "Chimera" or "The Ocean" because I felt that sAM
e old theme cropping up again and just couldn't deal with it. Since you put them on a list with so much else that I liked, I'm sensing that I missed something. Also, I loved the opening paragraph of "The Death of Justina." The opening sentence starts "So help me God it gets more and more preposterous, it corresponds less and less to what I remember and what I expect as if the force of life were centrifugal and threw one further and further away from one's purest memories and AM
bitions...." I love that. In fact, I think Cheever may be the King of the opening sentence. Barb  
Topic:
The Stories of John Cheever (76 of 76), Read 8 times
CONSTANT READER
From:
R Bavetta (rbav@prodigy.com)
Date:
Thursday, January 14, 1999 09:44 PM
Barb, I know you and I share a love of short stories, so I'm particularly pleased that you enjoyed Cheever's writing. He does have his faults, but he's sure good friends with the English language, isn't he? Ruth From: Barbara Moors (ncsh82b@prodigy.com)
Date:
Friday, January 15, 1999 05:25 PM
Yes, he is, Ruth. At his best, I don't think there is anyone who can top him. And, I wouldn't have found him without this forum. Thank you for nominating it. Barb


 
John Cheever
John Cheever
Search:
Keywords:
In Association with Amazon.com