For those of you who pay attention, you may have noticed that I'm currently reading The Stories of John Cheever, a collection of sixty Cheever tales, and the winner of the 1979 Pulitizer Prize for Fiction.
Cheever certainly was a prolific son of a bitch. But I'm finding that much of Cheever's work (in my humble opinion) hasn't aged well. Many of his characters are from a time and place that most of us can no longer relate to. Even characters who are supposedly young and broke all seem to have "nurses" to care for their children and cooks to...cook their meals.
Maybe this was common back in the 20's and 30's. I seem to recall reading that Hemingway and Hadley, supposedly dirt poor in their Parisian days, travelled with a nurse who cared for their infant son. Nurses must have come cheap in those days.
Cheever's characters are always "breaking down," and saying things like "Oh, my darling!"and "I can't bear it!"
They're always attending cocktail parties in New York apartments. In one story, The Cure, a couple is separated and plans to divorce. The man is spending the summer alone in their New York suburb, while the wife has taken the kids to the coast. He commutes into Manhattan by train and one night decides to attend a cocktail party.
"As soon as I got there, I went out onto the terrace, looking around for someone to take to dinner. What I wanted was a pretty girl in new shoes, but it looked as if all the pretty girls had stayed at the shore."
A pretty girl in new shoes? What the hell does that mean?
In Torch Song, Jack Lorey convinces his wife to attend a cocktail party at the apartment of a woman Jack has known for many years. The woman, Joan, is not part of the social stratification to which the young wife aspires.
"This made his wife angry. She was an ambitious girl wo liked a social life that offered rewards."
Social climbing bitch.
Cheever is no doubt a talented writer, but I think I'm going to have to take a break.
I'm a big fan of the short story and I recently read Trust Me, a collection of stories by John Updike. I find Updike a much more accessible writer, perhaps because of the 20-year age difference betwen him and Cheever.
I also just procured How it Ended, a collection of stories by Jay McInerney. I've already read most of McInerney's fiction but was not aware that he'd done a collection of short stories. I'm looking forward to it because A) I've enjoyed most of his novels, B) he's younger and therefore even more accessible, C) he was a fan and student of Raymond Carver, whom I also enjoy, and who likely influenced McInerney's short fiction.
Because I know you care, I'll keep you posted.
2-17-12 Believe it or not, I'm still reading Cheever. Found another funny bit that I thought I'd share. In The Five-Forty-Eight, a douchebag, Mr. Blake, is being stalked by a woman who had been his secretary, but whom he had fired after banging her and discovering that she was a little scooters.
"Most of the many women he had known had been picked for their lack of self-esteem. When he put his clothes on again, an hour or so later, she was weeping. He felt to contented and warm and sleepy to worry much about her tears. As he was dressing he noticed on the dresser a note she had written to a cleaning woman (see, even the whack-jobs had maids!). The only light came from the bathroom-the door was ajar-and in this half light the hideously scrawled letters again seemed entirely wrong for her, and as if they must be the handwriting of some other and very gross woman. The next day, he did what he felt was the only sensible thing. When she was out for lunch, he called personnel and asked them to fire her. (HA!) Then he took the afternoon off."