by John Cheever
1990, Paperback (Originally published 1979)
Winner, 1979 Pulliter Prize
John Cheever was an award winning novelist and short
story writer. He won the National Book Award in 1958 for his novel The Wapshot Chronicle and a
Pulitzer Prize in 1979 for his Collected
Stories. Other novels include Bullet
Park, Falconer and The
Love the review? Disagree violently? Come rant and rave in our
lives aren't sordid, are they, darling? Are they?' She flung her arms
around his neck and drew his face down to hers. 'We're happy, aren't
we, darling? We are happy, aren't we?'"
Reviewed by Alex Thornber
gained fame initially as a novelist, however he also published many
short stories and won a Pulitzer prize for this very collection.
His stories are mostly concerned with suburban life in America and
have frequently drawn comparisons to Chekov. This collection
has a total of 61 stories, spanning some 900 pages, and includes some
of his most famous tales like The
Swimmer, The Enormous Radio and
Cheever is now considered to be a master of short stories, it has not
always been easy to access his output in the field. A majority
of his stories were originally published in places like The New
Yorker, magazines with short shelf lives, and when Cheever did have
collections published they soon fell out of print. This
collection from Vintage however, finally allows us to see the true
scale of Cheever's contribution to the art of storytelling.
though I believe it is the shortest in the entire collection, is as
close to a perfect short story that I have ever read. Reunion
depicts an hour in the life of a young man who is meeting his
estranged father in Grand Central Station while he is "between
trains." The young man and his father move from restaurant
to restaurant trying to get a drink but due to the father's behaviour
they keep getting kicked out and refused service. The encounter
is all at once uncomfortable and humorous, but above all
manages to tell you the entire story of the families' history and
troubles without actually mentioning it. Aside from the line,
"He was a stranger to me - my mother divorced him three years
ago and I hadn't been with him since…" we know nothing about
why they haven't bee in contact or why they are meeting now. Cheever
withholds so much information yet manages to do so without ever
giving you a feeling that something is left unsaid; Cheever knew
exactly what to put into his stories in order to elicit the right
reactions and feeling from his readers and it is that skill which
makes this story so close to perfection.
Enourmous Radio is the only Cheever
story to verge on science fiction, but that is by no means
a bad thing. It is a satire, set in an apartment building,
which pokes fun at the nosey disposition of neighbours. Jim and
Irene Westcott, Cheever explains, "differed from their friends,
their classmates, and their neighbours only in an interest they
shared in serious music." After the Westcotts'
temperamental radio finally breaks beyond repair, Jim purchased his
wife a new one as a surprise. When the radio arrives, the
couple realise, it is far more powerful than they were initially
aware of; through their radio the Westcotts are able to hear the
conversations, arguments and affairs of their neighbours.
story progresses as Irene spends more and more time listening to the
radio and soon becomes overwhelmed with the misery of the world she
had been shown through the conversations she listened to. There
is an illuminating scene in a lift where Irene is trying to figure
out which of the other women in the lift she had heard talking.
"Which one of them had been to Sea Island? she wondered.
Which one had overdrawn her bank account?" Cheever magnificently
funnels all that is deplorable in the act of gossip and puts it into
one lady and, by proxy, his readers.
truly is Cheever's strength; he tells us these stories about everyday
people and their everyday problems in such a way that we cannot
resist being fascinated by them. We want to know everything we
can, we read the stories over and over agin, trying to draw out every
last fragment of information.