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Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Donnelly Library's The Stories of John Cheever Discussion Highlights

Donnelly Library had its third meeting of the Pulitzer Prizes Reading Group on Thursday, October 13, 2016 when we got together to discuss The Stories of John Cheever

This was the longest and most daunting of the book selections so far at over 700 pages and including over 60 stories written over the course of Cheever’s career.  During the discussion of the short stories many different things were discussed including the below. 
  • The role of the short story in the history of American Literature and how Cheever and the magazine he published the most frequently in, the New Yorker, fit into this history. It was interesting to learn that several MFA (Master of Fine Arts) programs in writing call Cheever’s collected short stories the “Orange Bible,” and consider him to be at the height of short story craftsmanship. It was also interesting to learn from the facilitator that though Cheever is thought of as writing realistic stories, it is his surreal stories like “The Swimmer” or “The Enormous Radio” for which he is best known.
  • Several reading group participants noted Cheever’s careful and skillful use of language and imagery in his writing. Together the reading group took a close look at key phrases and sentences in several stories. 
  • The group discussed if part of Cheever’s popularity was due in part to a bias toward New York centered fiction from both publishers and literary award committees.
  • The group further discussed the literature of the postwar suburbs and how Cheever fit into this tradition. Other important works about the suburbs of 1950s America, such as Sloan Wilson’s The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, Richard Yates’s Revolutionary Road, and the New Yorker short stories of John Updike, were discussed and were on the book truck display during the meeting. 
What did you find most interesting about the third meeting’s discussion or about the short stories? Please post in the comments below.

1 comment:

  1. I think the importance of John Cheever is that he wrote so wonderfully well but lived a (seemingly) miserable life. While the stories have a certain commonality (New England seaboard, trains, wealth, etc.) they still illustrate how the rich can be still be as unhappy and dysfunctional as can be. His literary technique, especially in The Jewels of the Cabots, is so masterful.


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