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Wednesday, November 9, 2016

The Stories of John Cheever - South Broadway Library

On October 22nd, we met to discuss The Stories of John Cheever.  We discussed four stories in particular: Goodbye, My Brother; The Five-Forty-Eight, The Swimmer, and The Jewels of the Cabots.  The discussion began with Good-bye, My Brother and we quickly decided that Cheever's examination of family dynamics was very morose. Lawrence, the youngest brother, is quite the black sheep in the family and the events he precipitates by his presents are symbolic of the decay of the "American Dream." The Five-Forty-Eight was a psychological story about a mentally ill woman who is an agent of karma returning to exact justice on a man who preys upon women through the use of the position and power.  The narration during the train ride on the title train is superbly constructed with the use of metaphor and imagery.  The final scene left many cheering for Miss Dent as she put a "dent" in Blake's life.  The Swimmer was described as an allegory for Neddy's (The Swimmer) passage from youth to old age.  His journey from one swimming pool to another becomes increasing more difficult and each pool seems to drain his energy.  The story ends with Neddy arriving home after dark and finding the house dark and abandoned.  One can only conclude that Neddy has lost everything and is in a state of denial or delusion about his situation.  The last story we discussed was The Jewels of the Cabots.  Cheever weaves a tangled web of a story with many tangential stories including one involving a male prostitute (!).  One is uncertain of which story is the main one until the very end when we find out that Mrs. Cabot's daughter is the jewel thief who takes her mother's jewel and recreates a life for herself in Egypt.  There is the usual Cheever use of swimming that takes place at the end of story  The narrator uses swimming techniques as way to separate the classes.  The side stroke, which is proletariat and lower class, is more efficient and more conducive to lifesaving, whereas the "overhand" stroke is indicative of the upper class because it is more stylish. The narrator makes this observation while swimming in the Nile river.  In the end, Cheever's stories reflect a slice of American life that takes place during the height of the "American Dream," and while the characters may be living the dream, they are also victims of it.  Their lives are set in rigid manner that doesn't allow for much individualism, and those who express individualism are not shown in a positive light.  Our next discussion will be on "Lovely, Dark, Deep" by Joyce Carol Oates on November 19th at 2:00 pm at the South Broadway Library.

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