Such a view, however, fails to account for the various nonrealistic components of his work: the mythic resonance of William Faulkner, the comic grotesquerie of Franz Kafka , and, most important, the lyric style that, while reminiscent of F. At their worst, they are narcissists and chronic complainers. The outwardly comfortable world in which these characters exist can suddenly, and often for no clearly understandable reason, turn dangerously dark, bringing into sharper focus the emotional and spiritual impoverishment of their lives. What concerns Cheever is not so much the change in their fortunes as the way they respond to that change. Many respond in an extreme, sometimes bizarre manner—Melissa Wapshot, for one. Others attempt to escape into the past; in doing so, they deny the present by imprisoning themselves in what amounts to a regressive fantasy that Cheever carefully distinguishes from nostalgia, which, as he uses it, denotes a pleasurable remembrance of the past, one that is free of regret.
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Such a view, however, fails to account for the various nonrealistic components of his work: the mythic resonance of William Faulkner, the comic grotesquerie of Franz Kafka , and, most important, the lyric style that, while reminiscent of F. At their worst, they are narcissists and chronic complainers. The outwardly comfortable world in which these characters exist can suddenly, and often for no clearly understandable reason, turn dangerously dark, bringing into sharper focus the emotional and spiritual impoverishment of their lives.
What concerns Cheever is not so much the change in their fortunes as the way they respond to that change. Many respond in an extreme, sometimes bizarre manner—Melissa Wapshot, for one. Others attempt to escape into the past; in doing so, they deny the present by imprisoning themselves in what amounts to a regressive fantasy that Cheever carefully distinguishes from nostalgia, which, as he uses it, denotes a pleasurable remembrance of the past, one that is free of regret.
Although in his later work Cheever may have been, as Richard Schickel has claimed, less ironic and more forgiving, his finest stories and novels, including Falconer, derive their power from the balance or tension he creates between irony and compassion, comedy and tragedy, light and dark. The novel, Cheever said in , is a form better suited to the parochial life of the nineteenth century than to the modern age with its highly mobile population and mass communications; but because critics and readers have continued to look upon the short story as inferior to the novel, the conscientious writer of short fiction has often been denied the recognition routinely awarded lesser writers who have worked in the longer form.
One way out of this dilemma for Cheever was to publish a collection of stories having the unity of a novel: The Housebreaker of Shady Hill.
Another was to write novels that had some of the fragmentary quality Cheever found at the heart of the modern age. Thus, although the story form is appropriate to the depiction of the discontinuity of modern life, only in the novel can that discontinuity be not only identified but also brought under some control, or, as happens in Falconer, transcended.
The impulse to create St. The strength of his novel, however, derives not from a rejection of the present or, as in the work of nineteenth century local colorists such as Sarah Orne Jewett, in a reverent re-creation of a vanished way of life, but in the way Cheever uses each to evaluate the other. The novel traces the decline of once-prosperous St. By having the novel begin and end with an annual Fourth of July celebration, Cheever does not so much impose an arbitrary orderliness on his discursive narrative as affirm that ceremoniousness that, in his view, is necessary to spiritual and emotional well-being.
The temporal frame is important for another reason: It implies that desire of human beings for independence equals their desire for tradition. Each must be accommodated if the individual is to prosper. Botolphs lacks. While the town is to be treasured for its rich tradition and continuity, it is also to be considered a place of confinement. Cheever intends this bridge to serve a larger, emblematic purpose in The Wapshot Chronicle, where, as in his other works, it is the distance between self and other, or, more specifically, between man and woman, that must be bridged.
Lusty and romantic, a lover of nature as well as of women, he transmits to Coverly and Moses, by his example rather than by precept, his vision of wholeness. Admire the world. Relish the love of a gentle woman. Trust in the Lord. Others, equally desperate, collect antiques or live in castles in a vain attempt to make themselves secure in a bewilderingly changeable world. He affirms life; they deny it.
To some extent they are predatory, but even more they are incomplete because they are in need of someone to love. Similarly, Leander is portrayed as a man not without flaws. Whether his sons will fare any better in their relationships with women is left uncertain in this novel.
Both, after briefly losing their wives, eventually father sons, thus fulfilling the terms of their inheritance as set by Honora. In sum, theWapshot boys may yet be greatly disappointed in their expectations.
What is more important is the fact that Moses and, more particularly, Coverly build the necessary bridge between past and present, holding firm to what is best in St. Straight narrative sections alternate with large portions of two Wapshot journals, humorous parodies of biblical language, and frequent direct addresses to the reader. Tragic elements are present but always in muted tones and often undercut with humor.
More certain is that a considerably darker mood pervades The Wapshot Scandal. At the time he began writing the book, Cheever told an audience that American life had become abrasive and debased, a kind of hell, and during its four-year composition he became severely depressed.
In the earlier book, Moses and Coverly had to escape the confinement of St. Botolphs; in the sequel, characters have too completely cut themselves off from the usable traditions, comforting stability, and vital, natural light that the town also represents.
As a result, the communal center to which earlier Wapshot men had come back and, analogously, the narrative center to which The Wapshot Chronicle continually returned, are conspicuously absent from The Wapshot Scandal. In the sequel, St. In the guise of an elderly senator, Cheever carefully distinguishes between the sentimentalizing of the past and the modern tendency to dispense with the past altogether.
As Cheever shows, the American Dream totters on the brink of nightmare. When one resident of Proxmire Manor suddenly finds her carefree days turn into a series of frozen water pipes, backed up toilets, exploding furnaces, blown fuses, broken appliances, unopenable packages of bacon, and vacationing repairmen, she turns first to alcohol and promiscuity, then to suicide.
The few mourners her husband can persuade to attend the funeral are people they had briefly known on various sea cruises who, intuiting her disappointment and recognizing it as their own, burst into tears.
Trained as a computer programmer, he accepts the computer error that transforms him into a public relations man but resists the apocalyptic mood that infects nearly everyone else in the novel. Like Cheever, he has belonged to a volunteer fire department, loves to saw wood with a chainsaw, feels a kinship with the natural world, and has a realistically balanced view of suburban living as being neither morally perfect nor inherently depraved. Beneath the appearance of respectability and comfort in Bullet Park, one finds the same unease that afflicts Talifer and Proxmire Manor.
There is Mr. When Harry Shinglehouse is sucked under a passing express train and killed, only his shoe is found, an ironic memorial to a hollow life. Shaken by this and other reminders of mortality, Nailles turns to drugs. When asked about his work—he sells Spang mouthwash—Nailles claims to be a chemist. Unloved and rootless, Hammer is haunted by a vaguely defined canard.
Nothing less than a crucifixion will wake that world! One reason is his loneliness; feeling the need for a confidant, he explains his plan to the swami, who tells Nailles. The other is his having underestimated the depth of love, even in Bullet Park, where homes are associated not with the people who live in them but with real estate: number of bedrooms, number of baths, and market value.
The return to third-person narration in part 3 enables Cheever to use as centers of consciousness each of his two main characters. The more significant difference, however, is the absence of any qualifying irony in its concluding pages. Falconer is a story of metaphoric confinement and escape.
The relationship between two brothers as in theWapshot books or two brotherlike figures Bullet Park is given a violent twist in Falconer, where the main character, a forty-eightyear old college professor named Ezekiel Farragut, has been convicted of fratricide. When Jody escapes from Falconer, the loss of his lover at first leads Farragut back to lonely self-love; directed by another prisoner, the Cuckold, to whose depths of self-pity Farragut could easily descend, Farragut goes to the Valley, a dimly lit lavatory where the prisoners masturbate.
The riot at nearby Amana prison based on the September, , Attica uprising, during which Cheever was teaching at Sing Sing shows that Farragut is actually freer than his jailers, but it is at this point that Farragut overreaches himself. He hopes to get a crystal from Bumpo, who had earlier said he would gladly give up his diamond to save someone. In place of the ineffectual and wholly impersonal charity of his plan to save humankind, Farragut takes upon himself the humbler and more truly charitable task of caring for his fellow man.
The demon exorcised, Farragut becomes spiritually free, a creature of the light. Miracles, it seems, do occur. The step from psychological retreat and spiritual darkness to freedom and light is not difficult to take, Cheever implies; it simply requires commitment and determination. One is the tendency toward greater narrative compression. Another, related to the first, is the inclusion of ancillary narratives, less as somewhat obtrusive sketches and more as integral parts of the main storyline.
The third—a more overt treatment of the religious theme—appears to have influenced the characterization, style, and structure of Falconer. By the time he wrote Falconer, however, that sense of personal and cultural fragmentation no longer dominated his thinking, a change reflected in the relatively tight, more harmonious structure of his most affirmative work.
In his sexual pursuit of Renee, Sears is persistent to the point of clownishness. Comically dismissed in the early works, it becomes in Falconer and Oh What a Paradise It Seems viable but, as Cheever would say in a letter to one of his many male lovers, not ultimate. Like Sears, he is also quixotic, which is to say both idealistic and absurd.
The parents, the Logans, live next door to the Salazzos; Sammy Salazzo presides over the pond-turned-dump. Chisholm will be welcomed into the Logan family but eventually will be killed by the mob; an angry Betsey Logan will, however, complete his work, stopping the dumping by threatening to poison the teriyaki sauce in the local Buy Brite supermarkets. A by-product of her action is that her hated neighbors, the Salazzos, will move away.
Sears, in turn, will utilize the latest technology to restore the pond to its original state, thus redeeming himself as well. Teleplay: The Shady Hill Kidnapping, Weaver, ,
Analysis of John Cheever’s Novels
His father was a prosperous shoe salesman, and Cheever spent much of his childhood in a large Victorian house , at Winthrop Avenue,  in the then-genteel suburb of Wollaston, Massachusetts. In the mids, however, as the New England shoe and textile industries began their long decline, Frederick Cheever lost most of his money and began to drink heavily. To pay the bills, Mary Cheever opened a gift shop in downtown Quincy—an "abysmal humiliation" for the family, as John saw it. A year later he won a short story contest sponsored by the Boston Herald and was invited back to Thayer as a "special student" on academic probation. His grades continued to be poor, however, and, in March , he was either expelled for smoking or more likely departed of his own accord when the headmaster delivered an ultimatum to the effect that he must either apply himself or leave. The year-old Cheever wrote a sardonic account of this experience, titled "Expelled", which was subsequently published in The New Republic.
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