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on October 2, 1999
I bought a used copy of this book and on the cover there is an upper middle class couple having drinks around a dining table in the drained swimming pool in their backyard. At first I didn't think much of it, but after reading the stories, I think it makes so much sense. There is always something slightly off about Cheever's stories, but it's hard to put your finger on what that is. It took me a little while to get into these stories, but after a while I came to love them. By the end of the book, the ending of the story, Another Story, knocked me breathless. The best ending to a short story I've ever read. I have also see how influential Cheever was on contemporary American short story writers, at least Tobias Wolff, Mary Robison and I think Lorrie Moore as well. This is the sort of book you want to savor , a couple stories a day. Cheever is a master of subtly shifting the mood of a piece. Out of the blue you'll suddenly realize you're in a different place from where you started.
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on October 21, 2003
Most of my students scratch their heads and mutter "Who?" when I tell them they will be reading the selected stories of John Cheever. When I tell them that Cheever is a representative of upper crusty, mid-twentieth century, cosmopolitan American cities, the sighs and groans can be heard crosstown.
Then they read the stories: "Goodbye, My Brother", "The Swimmer", "The Enormous Radio"... And the discussions are as lively as any instructor could hope for.
And their excitement reminds me over and again of the thrill I had reading these stories for the first time. (I'm almost jealous of my students--I miss that first time pleasure.) These are stories perfect in their craftsmanship, memorable in their characters, and decidedly superior to anything of his time, and just about anything since. Pick up this collection and enjoy.
Rocco Dormarunno,
College of New Rochelle
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on May 25, 2001
I don't imagine that John Cheever is much read these days by English Lit. types. These brilliant stories of love and loss among the genteel, drunken, and declasse WASP gentry are about as far as it is possible to get from the noisy concerns of the PoMo/multicultural/gender studies/Lit Crit. crowd. Which is only one of the reasons why the truly literate will still be reading Cheever's stories when Foucault, Derrida, De Man, Lacan and the rest of the French sophists are footnotes in future works about curious intellectual fads (yes, yes, I know: De Man was Belgian). You see, art always triumphs over kitsch; it may take an unconscionably long time in some cases, but in the end, art wins. And Cheever was nothing if not an artist, as the many small masterpieces contained in this collection amply demonstrate: "Goodbye, My Brother," "The Lowboy," "The Housebreaker of Shady Hill," "The Swimmer," "The Five-Forty-Eight," "The Cure," "The Sorrows of Gin," and so on, and on. The mood in these stories is predominantly one of melancholy and regret: regret that love, no matter how fierce and strong, will never last a lifetime; regret for the many small acts of cruelty that failed love and dashed dreams will force good men to commit; regret for what might have been, but was not, for what was and need not have been. But the melancholy and regret is tempered with a muted joy, inspired by the understanding that the same spiritual and moral isolation that prevents any man from ever fully connecting with another person also makes him autonomous and free. The obvious comparison is with Chekov; but such comparisons are seldom very helpful, and in this case would only serve to obscure the essential fact that Cheever was one of the finest artists this country has produced.
But you don't have take my word for it. Here is a small test that will conclusively demonstrate Cheever's greatness, and in doing so will also demonstrate the power of art over schmaltz. ....So, prospective reader, do yourself a favor and buy this book. Keep it by your bedside and pick it up often. If you do that, you'll find that Cheever Country is one of the finest fictional worlds to visit.
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on January 24, 2005
This is one of the best short story American books I've read. Cheever narrates these stories about ordinary people in a simplistic and nervous fashion. Cheever subtlety describes his characters as pathetic in a sarcastic way but effectively manages to get his readers to like them. His stories are at times shady, moralistic, and mystical that keeps you practically glued to the pages of the book. My favorites are The Swimmer, and The Enormous Radio. Even though his topics touch on the lives of the so called "Wasps", I don't think you have to be one, but have the knowledge of how people that live in quiet desperation live in order to understand and enjoy Cheever's writings.
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on September 29, 2008
Of all the archetypal New Yorker short story writers of the Twentieth Century- John O'Hara, John Updike, Alice Adams, J.D. Salinger- perhaps the best of them was John Cheever- and he was certainly the best of the three big Johns. That said, I do not particularly like John Cheever's stories. Of the over sixty tales in this collection a good thee quarters involved characters that do not personally interest me- mid-Twentieth Century upper crust whites, martini-totaling who seem as stranded on the island of Manhattan, or his fictive suburb of Shady Hill, physically as their views of the world are intellectually. In his world even middle class people have maids. But, almost all of the tales are tight and well-wrought, and that's an important distinction to note when reviewing, for few critics are able to separate themselves from their biases and inclinations. That said, while the tales are good, and at their best, very good, excellent, and even near-great, there isn't a one that really leapt out as being inarguably great, mostly because they are tales that work on only one or two levels, even when ricjly layered. This is because they follow a formula, the New Yorker formula, and follow it well, but Cheever never achieves an expansion of his character's worlds the way he tinkers incessantly with the interior narrative structures. To use a metaphor, his stories are solidly and well built, but the interior decorating can be atrocious.

His tales almost always start off with a good and/or arresting start, and his ends are also usually quite deft. The middle sometimes sag, in even the best tales, not because of length, but because the tales are so dependent upon their extreme supports.... Technically, Cheever also pulls off marvelous turns of narrative direction that can leave one with a wholly unexpected ending, as judged by a tale's start, but wholly realistic if reading the tale. There is also a dealing with the same themes and life events that occurs in many of the tales. In Just Tell Me Who It Was a rich, successful older man finds out his younger wife has cuckolded him, and attacks the man he suspects did it, in public, but unlike the scene in Goodbye, My Brother, the violence flows naturally from the story elements that lead up to it. Another element from Goodbye, My Brother that is reworked more successfully in another tale occurs in The Seaside Houses, in which the end of a marriage and the passage of time are all summed up in a fleeting instant by the narrator. It is a tale void of the melodrama of the lesser tale that shares its themes. That the two better tales were published in the New Yorker in 1978 and the lesser one in 1951 should not surprise. The depth and richness of the later tales is evident. Yet, a brief tale like Reunion, in which a father and son briefly reunite, never to see each other again, is also terrifically wrought and almost lyrical.

Yet, as good as he can be, his tales should be read sparingly, because too many in a row tends to manifest the New Yorkerish weaknesses in his short story corpus: suburbia, adultery, middle class purgatory, fedoras, regretful housewives, and cocktail parties that all become fairy taleish, and are topped off with a climactic three or four sentence epiphany. John O'Hara may have invented that genre, but Cheever brought it to its apex, and- as shown- the epiphanies can be marvelous. In a sense, one might argue he personified the post-World War Two generation in fiction the way F. Scott Fitzgerald did the Jazz Age. Fortunately, though, Cheever is the far superior short story stylist because his tales are not as hermetically walled off to the contemporary reader as those of Fitzgerald, and therefore more emotionally more accessible, especially when limning schlubs. Yet, many of Cheever's tales, as formulaic as they could be, also broke the fourth wall, or commented slyly on themselves, pointing up the lie that Postmodernism was anything new or revolutionary. And, in Cheever's story, the devices actually enhance or serve the tales, and are not mere accoutrements to blow the writer's own horn, and solipsistically preen on their coolness. The art comes first in Cheever's tales. Look at how he describes a simple act in The Enormous Radio, a tale about an old woman who loses herself in another world:

....The radio was delivered at the kitchen door the following afternoon, and with the assistance of her maid and the handyman Irene uncrated it and brought it into the living room. She was struck at once with the physical ugliness of the large gumwood cabinet. Irene was proud of her living room, she had chosen its furnishings and colors as carefully as she chose her clothes, and now it seemed to her that the new radio stood among her intimate possessions like an aggressive intruder. She was confounded by the number of dials and switches on the instrument panel, and she studied them thoroughly before she put the plug into a wall socket and turned the radio on. The dials flooded with a malevolent green light, and in the distance she heard the music of a piano quintet. The quintet was in the distance for only an instant; it bore down upon her with a speed greater than light and filled the apartment with the noise of music amplified so mightily that it knocked a china ornament from a table to the floor. She rushed to the instrument and reduced the volume. The violent forces that were snared in the ugly gumwood cabinet made her uneasy. Her children came home from school then, and she took them to the Park. It was not until later in the afternoon that she was able to return to the radio.

The Stories Of John Cheever may not be the best Twentieth Century American fiction had to offer, but it's emblemic. To not read or not understand these tales is to be as void of the American character as ignoring Dickens is to the English character or Chekhov is to the Russian character of the prior century. Read the book, learn from it, and seek out those who will do even more for this century.
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on July 8, 2003
Like most good short story writers, John Cheever has his niche in time and place. His is the world of New York middle class life in the 1940s -- as he himself puts it, "when almost everyone wore hats." It was also, it seems, a time when every man worked a nine to five office job and took the commuter train home to Shady Hill. A time when his wife, who regretted giving up her talent and ambition for the life of a lonely housewife, would either have an affair with the milkman or pass her time shopping and catching matinees in the city. A time when cocktail parties were the Friday night routine, and every other family was named Farquarson. Yes, this is Waspy America at its peak, in its heyday, and no one that I know of has captured it so crisply, so honestly, and so compassionately, as John Cheever. If F. Scott Fitzgerald captured a generation in the 1920s, the same can be said of Cheever two decades later.
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on September 11, 2002
John Cheever's work may not appeal to all; those of us who are not WASP's, from New England, or do not live in suburbs might feel these stories are about the trivialities of elites, but the truth is far different.
Cheever's work is deceptive; all is quiet, forbearing, with little violence or deprivation, a typical New Yorker story. Except, of course, Cheever invented the form, so the so-called "typical New Yorker" story is a knock-off of John Cheever's work. He is of his time and place, like Shakespeare or Sappho, so like all of us, he is limited by what he knew, lived and experienced. But enough objections.
This collection of short stories can only be compared to great ouevres in world civilization; a lifetime's work, an exploration of a life, a comphrensive vision of human life from a distinct perspective. Mozart's concerti, Beethoven's Symphonies, O'Keefe's paintings are akin to this book, this mass-market goldmine.
John Clellon Holmes said of Cheever's work that he was working through his own psychoanalysis on the page. I certainly agree with that. From reading Cheever's letters and journals, one can see that he left little to himself. He was tortured by bisexuality, adultery, alcholism, feeling unloved by his parents, feeling himself socially and financially inferior to the braying socialities around him and his stories explore these conflicts with unflinching bravery.
Those who refuse to see past the social milieu are denying themselves the company of one America's greatest artists. I, too had to get over his settings, but then too, it took me a while to connect with Faulkner who's work is locked with a time and location that is never derided, unlike Cheever's. I assert there is no difference.
Cheever's collected stories are also a great place to understand writing. He is a master of understatement, of terse scenes, of inner horror, of the shabbiness of most people's moral lives.
Does he have nothing to say to us now? No. John Cheever was our last great writer, or the last great writer of the 20th century.
This great book is part of American culture no less than the NFL
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on February 1, 2000
Like Hemingway and Carver, Cheever is among a handful of the most influential short-story writers America has ever produced, but unlike his peers, he is also one of the world's greatest storytellers. Do you know of another writer with a greater command and versatility with the narrative? It sometimes seems to me that virtually every writer out there is not writing stories at all, but anecdotes. Cheever wrote stories, great ones, and in the tradition of Chekhov and Maupaussant.
I loved "The Country Husband," "The Swimmer," "Torch Song," "The Angel of the Bridge," "The Scarlet Moving Van," "Clancy in the Towel of Babel," and "The Five-Forty-Eight." Every single story in this book is from very good to awesome; there isn't a single stinker. If you are a young writer you must read Cheever; and not just for the sweet prose style or the distinct dialogues or the impeccable construction, but because he makes the craft of writing seems so exciting and possible and noble.
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on February 20, 2008
Virtually everything John Cheever ever wrote is worth reading; and I include his letters, some of which are achingly beautiful.

This volume includes many stories Cheever wrote from shortly after the Second World War up to the book's publication in 1978. To me, this is an almost perfect book; pick it up one evening after dinner and settle into a comfortable chair and read 2 or 3 stories, then set the book down for a week or a month or a year. You will come back to it again and again as I have since I purchased the book when it was published 30 years ago. It holds a valuable space in my bookshelves which are, to a certain extent, laden with books that are eminently forgettable.

It seems to me that Cheever is in danger of being forgotten. He may be the quintessential "WASP" writer and, as such, much of what he has written seems trapped in another time. But what a lovely and seemingly innocent time it was, before computers and the Internet and when television was in its infancy.

I do not mean to suggest that Cheever's longer works, his novels, are no longer great reading. Indeed they are, but in my view he reached his apogee in the short story form.
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The late John Cheever could not only tell a story well. He also could make each word count to ultimately paint a complex portrait of a certain type of person and his life, (less often her life). This was the upperclass, or marginal thereto, person who when in a city was in New York and when in the suburbs went by train to CT. Even more telling though was that Cheever's eye could see in a person's smallest gesture, or his passingest moment, everything you would ever need to know about him. Cheever exposed the underside of what was going on in life for this person. The world might seem sunny and simple when a Cheever story begins but by its end the world is rendered in all its complexity in the sparest of prose. I read Cheever's novels too but it was in his short stories that his genius as a writer shone forth best. Each story in this collection is stunning and well worth owning forever.

Visit my blog with link given on my profile page here or use this phonetically given URL (livingasseniors dot blogspot dot com). Friday's entry will always be weekend entertainment recs from my 5 star Amazon reviews in film, tv, books and music. These are very heavy on buried treasures and hidden gems. My blogspot is published on Monday, Wednesday & Friday.
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