Thursday, March 15, 2012

Review: The Stories of John Cheever

The Stories of John Cheever, which won the National Book Critics Circle award in 1978 and the Pulitzer in 1979, is a chronological collection that spans Cheever’s short story career, from pre-WWII up to 1973.

To read this collection – just shy of 700 pages – is to live in Cheever’s head, tracking his artistic and personal development in a way that a single novel or volume of stories doesn’t allow. These are not happy stories. The earlier pieces are particularly bleak and raw. While the later stories are deeper and more nuanced, they are still pretty dark. Precious few have cheerful resolutions. The best Cheever’s characters seem to achieve is contentment despite imperfect circumstances.

Cheever’s is a world of commuter trains and cocktail parties, where everyone wears hats, has a cook, drinks martinis at lunch, summers, sails, and commits adultery. Not everyone is rich; in fact, money problems are a continuing theme. But the trappings, however tarnished, of a mid-century, Northeast corridor, upper crust way of life hang on all the stories. And that is Cheever at his best. He can bring us so deep into that world that it feels like living it.


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  1. Interesting review. I have a hard time with prize winning books - they never live up to my expectations. I think the fact a book won a prize raises my expectations to impossible heights.

  2. Cheever is amazing! I think this is one of the most perfect collections of short stories ever. The pacing is perfect, the flow and tone. Whoever edited it is stellar.

    Have you read Cheever's novel The Wapshot Chronicles? You should if you are a fan!

  3. I must confess I've never tried any of Cheever's work. One of these days . . .

  4. Dana: My list obsession drives me to read prize winners, sometimes to my disappointment. Although I have found some real favorites that I probably wouldn't have read had they not won a prize.

    Cath: I like Cheever too, although not as much as some of the others I lump together with him, like Philip Roth and John Updike. I did read, and really enjoyed, The Wapshot Chronicle because it was on the Modern Library's Top 100 list. That was my intro to Cheever and a good one.

    Barbara: So many books, so little time!


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