Tuesday, January 12, 2010

On "The Stories of John Cheever" by John Cheever *****

I first read this book about ten years ago. In those days, I'd often go to the Hulen Mall in Fort Worth, Texas, to read. Recently, sans computer, I realize why. There's an unbearable loneliness as a single person that a computer--or a television (which is one reason I've refused to have one)--fills in. Back in the Texas days, without a computer, I had no ability to correspond online and certainly very little ability to meet anyone in real life (I've always been relatively shy), so reading in public was my attempt to do something I love while perhaps opening myself up to the possibility of social interaction.

The only people I ever seemed to meet, however, were vagrants who wanted money. And such is the one memory I have attached to the first reading of Cheever's stories. A man from Germany who had come to Texas to visit Kenneth Copeland and now was sans money or place to stay sat down next to me. He needed a place to sleep. Could he pray for me? Yada, yada. I was in the middle of, I believe, "The Day the Pig Fell into the Well." And I was a bit annoyed, but being the kind of person I am, I agreed to help the man. In the end, I took him to a Motel 6; a few months later, the same guy asked me for money again--and I figured I'd likely been duped, as is so often the case with such beggars.

The unfortunate thing, however, was not being able to read "The Day the Pig Fell into the Well" in one sitting, as the story demands. It's one of Cheever's best--a story told from multiple points of view about a single incident years ago, full of sadness in the form of sentimentality, but in the best possible way.

Another story that stuck out on this read was "The Hartleys," the story of an unhappy couple everyone likes who at the end of the piece brutally loses their daughter. Favorite stories from the previous reading included "The Enormous Radio," "Torch Song," and "The Wrysons." The first still stood out on this reading; the latter two not as much. At the same time, "The Swimmer," a favorite of so many other people I know, read much better to me this time around than the first time. All of this shows in part why the collection remains one of my favorites. Thick and full of Cheever's wit, the book is sure to surprise and fascinate in new ways on each read.

1 comment:

Ravi Mangla said...

Those are some amazing stories. As good as it gets.