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Goodbye, My Brother may well be the best short story I have ever read. Its close to perfect and leaves me wanting to just tear through this entire collection in the hopes of reading anything that matches it.

The more that I consider this book, the more I realize how much I love elegance in style. Sure, its WASPY and male and (to some) unbearably middle-class. But the structure and syntax give me incredible enjoyment.

_______________________________________________________________

It inevitably turns out that cultural shorthand, particularly for literature, ends up being extraordinarily unhelpful. John Cheever, like many writers who are more known than read, has seemingly been relegated to the broad, and unfashionable, category of @suburban fiction.@ After reading nearly 700 pages of his short stories, helpfully set forth in more or less chronological order, I can happily recommend this book and report that this label is woefully incomplete and misleading. Certainly many of Cheevers stories take place in suburban settings, but his stories employ a darkness, mysteriousness and occasional surrealism (which become more and more prevalent as Cheevers career progress (more on this below)), and these combine to make his work so much more interesting than the middlebrow pulp stereotype that his name might conjure in the head of those with only a passing knowledge of him.

But why would anyone actually undertake the task of reading his work? Today, theres very little hip or, to some readers minds, laudable about the mid-20th centurys New Yorker writers -- Updike, OHara, and Cheever chief among these, and Old White Men all. Decried as middlebrow, self-obsessed and sexist, among other charges, they exist, to greater or lesser degrees, as curiosities to modern audiences. Updikes death was mourned, and he seems to have retained the best reputation of the three, perhaps due to his inexhaustible production of criticism of fiction and art, as much as for his (to my mind excellent) novels and short stories. OHara is basically completely forgotten, though I thought A Rage To Live was very solid. And then theres Cheever, who, thanks to the publication of
Cheever: A Life
, may find his legacy in the broadcast of his sexual proclivities, his failings as a husband and father, and his weakness for alcohol. While I dont doubt that Blake Bailey, the author of A Life, has created a great work, I have no interest in reading it. I have seen the collected work of Cheever, and I know as much about the man as I care to. Ill steal a summation of my feelings from William Gaddis, who through a character in The Recognitions asked, @What is it they want from the man that they didnt get from the work? What is there left when hes done with his work, whats any artist but the dregs of his work, the human shambles that follows it around?@

My feeling is that, in the face of todays increasingly vapid, and ultimately misguided, thirst for personal anecdotes and embarrassing details about an author rather than the writing he produced, one cant do much better than follow the evolutionary track of an author. In The Stories of John Cheever, Cheever the artist unfolds and grows before the readers eyes, and one doesnt have to know a single detail about his personal life to understand that the creator of these later stories understood the limitations of his previously constructed elegant masterpieces, and perhaps the lost ideals set forth in them, and made a conscious effort to transcend them. Suddenly, commuter trains, burned dinner, and thinly veiled domestic upheaval seem almost beside the point. The suburban trappings are still there in some cases, but the structure and the narrative voice have changed in a meaningful way. I cant claim that I always grasped the full meaning of the later stories, and I still think Goodbye, My Brother (one of the more conventional stories of the collection) is close to the best, but it was quite engaging to watch the progress and the efforts undertaken by Cheever to change his art. There is a increasing encroachment, in the middle and latter stories, of the bizarre that is all the more striking after one has read through hundreds of pages of finely wrought prose and controlled storytelling.

Cheevers biggest flaw, from my perspective, is his penchant for twist endings, in which he will insert a momentous event in the last paragraph of a story. This trend threatens to become formulaic during a stretch of his earlier stories, but he abandons it to a degree later on in the collection.

If this is middlebrow, so be it, one could do a lot worse than middlebrow thats written this well. These stories are about love, class and efforts to change ones station, failed dreams, death, disgrace, and a certain segment of life on the east coast during the 1940s-1970s. Recommended.


مشاهده لینک اصلی
Children drown, beautiful women are mangled in automobile accidents, cruise ships founder, and men die lingering deaths in mines and submarines, but you will find none of this in my accounts.

Back in January 2014, I read John Cheever’s Falconer as part of my ongoing Time project. As I wrote in the subsequent essay, I viewed the novel, which received some of his best reviews upon its publication in 1977, “as a series of vividly-drawn episodes that don’t really cohere as grandly as we expect a novel to. It’s those individual set pieces that I’ll take away more than the book as a whole.”

I liked what I read, even if I thought the sum was lesser than its parts. I realized I wasn’t done with Cheever and needed to judge him on what he’s best known for, the stories. I also needed to abandon my prejudices of the man, whom I’d been led by popular culture to believe was thoroughly outmoded, a legendary drunk, and a sexually confused sitcom punchline.

And so I finally took The Stories of John Cheever, the big book with the iconic cover, off my shelf and started going through the 61 stories, one by one, night after night, over the course of several months. I had read certain stories (“Reunion,” “The Country Husband”) in various contexts before, but this was the first time I went through the whole thing cover to cover, tracing the author’s evolution.

It blew my mind.

The prevailing thought on Cheever now is that he’s a stodgy relic of a bygone era, a stenographer for the country club set whose stories form the template of every Mad Men episode ever written. It’s not totally wrong; Cheever’s characters do fit a certain profile, and the first batch of stories, though immaculately written, seem to color inside these lines (“The Season of Divorce,” “Goodbye, My Brother”).

But keep reading and you start to see Cheever rebel against his preferred milieu, a narrative jujitsu in which he seems to play both sides: he’s not merely the jaded outsider holding up the suburbs for detached ridicule but a deeply sympathetic chronicler of our darkest impulses and appetites; Cheever likes his characters too much to judge or hate them (it’s what separates him from his chief rival John Updike), and it’s the only reason you can read all 690 pages of this book and still want more.*

To be sure, there are phases of Cheever’s career that do nothing for me. I don’t much care for the Italian pieces (“The Duchess,” “Boy in Rome”), and I prefer the late-era Cheever, which dives headlong into levels of surrealism and digressiveness the earlier stories, fixed more squarely in the prototypical New Yorker tradition, do not.

Exhibit A: “The Death of Justina,” whose placement about two-thirds of the way into the collection serves as a convenient line of demarcation, where Cheever by 1960 says goodbye forever to a certain kind of storytelling. Most of the subsequent pieces are really just extended exercises in voice that defy easy summary (try describing what “The Chimera” is getting at in a line or two).

There’s so much more that could be written about this collection. How about the range: any collection that can run from “The Enormous Radio” to “The Swimmer” (with “The Country Husband” in between) is pretty awe-inspiring. I also haven’t yet mentioned the writing itself, those long loping Cheever sentences floating along on their inimitable cadences, nor the too-many-to-count list of killer opening and closing lines.

I still have four of his novels to read, but I have the feeling that, like Falconer, they will suffer for the length and that the big red book is the prime Cheever. There’s a reason this book caused such a stir when it was published, sweeping most of the literary awards and single-handedly restoring Cheever’s long-festering reputation. It really was the best book of 1979, and had it been published 35 years later, I have little doubt it would be the consensus favorite of 2014. It is certainly mine.

———–

*”Cheever seemed to be constantly presuming his readers were East Coast sophisticates—probably with ancestral ties to the Mayflower crew,” Brad Leithauser observed about Cheever’s prose. “It took me a while to see that this assumption of a sort of clubby exclusivity was, as so often the case with Cheever, a kind of delicate, straight-faced joke.”

مشاهده لینک اصلی
John Cheever has been called @the Chekhov of the suburbs,@ but I dont entirely agree with that. His stories are harsh and ugly; they make their characters pathetic at best and offensive at worst. Chekhov is gentle and respectful in comparison--probably in an absolute sense as well, but certainly in comparison with the mud Cheever drags his characters through. I still like Cheever, though. @The Swimmer@ is probably the second best short story Ive ever read; the only short story thats ever fascinated me more is William Faulkners @Mountain Victory.@ With its surrealism, its hidden subtexts, its literary depth and its chilling, desolate end, its a masterpiece.

9/26/2018

While pedaling my exercise bike, I was reading some more of Cheevers stories in this collection; and after putting down the book, I actually wrote in my diary: @until I grew bored and annoyed at his endless belittling of suburban and urban people.@ Thats honestly what he does in his more unremarkable stories, not the remembered ones such as @The Swimmer@ (his masterpiece) and @The Enormous Radio@ (a startling foray into magical realism): endless scenes of how dreary the lives of midcentury people in places like Manhattan and their suburbs are supposed to be. That or their ugly moral failings; or their foolish illusions; or both. Its arguably fair to call Cheever a Naturalist writer, just never associated with literatures classic Naturalists--probably because the gentility of his characters and setting obfuscates their inherent bleakness and despair.

The muck he leads us through does not disturb me on any deep level, for the simple reason that none of it speaks to me. This is for three reasons of my background: Im Christian; I was born at least thirty years after these stories are set (always the 1940s-1960s); and I live in Arizona and was born and raised there, whereas every one of Cheevers stories is set in east coast suburban and urban neighborhoods. Because of those factors, the stories dedicated to making mid-century east coast lives look bad dont depress me--they simply annoy me, if I read too many of them at once.
... I have no idea why I keep coming back to an inherently contemptuous writer like John Cheever, except to think that his writing style is comfortable, and even the content is congenial to me too in a certain way. In fact I even take notes on most of the stories, writing relatively brief comments on each after I read it. Only occasionally does one leave me with nothing to say about it, and even that may be as much because I was too tired to think as because the story left me disinterested. It embarrasses me somewhat that Cheever somehow interests me that much, but yes--he apparently does. (Even these review comments themselves may suggest that.)

Despite the ugliness (tempered by polite diction) of the stories, theyre tranquil to me (if strictly in the sense of quietness) because theyre tales of a place where Ive never gone and cant go because it no longer exists. In short, I think I find it comfortable simply because its the distant past. Comfortable if absorbed in small doses. This might make the point: after I put down the Cheever collection, what did I next feel compelled to pick up? What book? ...My Bible. I didnt do it on purpose--it was simply what I needed for some reason.

مشاهده لینک اصلی
Há uma edição brasileira dos contos do John Cheever – mas ela contém apenas alguns daqueles que estão neste livro, original, “The Stories of John Cheever”.

São todos contos muito agradáveis, muitos com a intenção de elevar espíritos, alegrar mesmo. Foram publicados na New Yorker e acabaram um pouco estigmatizados, como se fossem contos rasos e vazios – é um estigma absolutamente cretino. Nesta edição estão, conforme explica o autor no prefácio, em ordem cronológica de edição.

O estilo, especialmente nos primeiros contos, quando Cheever era mais novo, traz um agradável registro da simplicidade narrativa de Hemingway – mas o conteúdo está mais para Bellow, que aliás tinha declarada admiração por ele.

Na edição brasileira, há um prefácio do Mario Sergio Conti, onde ele faz questão de nos informar que, a despeito do tom moral dos contos, Cheever era um alcoólatra bissexual. É possível ver os olhinhos apertados do Conti, escarnecendo de mais um conservador que tropeça e cai.

Pouco importa: quando gente como Cheever escreve, transforma o mundo e sua própria vida. E não há falso moralismo, nem hipocrisia: há, apenas, o duro confronto entre o ideal moral e os limites das circunstâncias humanas – coisa que boa parte dos intelectuais, adeptos de Henry Miller ou, pior, de Bukowsky, não consegue conceber. Para eles, esse conflito resolve-se, sempre, abandonando o ideal moral.

John Cheever lutou até o fim – e no fim foi muito firme.
___

O conto de que mais gostei – Clancy na Torre de Babel – não está na edição brasileira. Não é, decerto, o melhor do livro, nem no que diz respeito à técnica, nem tampouco na profundidade. Mas é muito simpático e, como eu também sou, fiz uma despretensiosa tradução para quem preferir ao original: https://maurodiacronico.wordpress.com...



مشاهده لینک اصلی
“There are some Americans who, although their fathers emigrated from the Old World three centuries ago, never seem to have quite completed the voyage and I am one of these. I stand, figuratively, with one wet foot on Plymouth Rock, looking with some delicacy, not into a formidable and challenging wilderness but onto a half-finished civilization embracing glass towers, oil derricks, suburban continents, and abandoned movie houses and wondering why, in this most prosperous, equitable, and accomplished world—where even the cleaning women practice the Chopin preludes in their spare time—everyone should seem to be disappointed.” (“The Death of Justina”)

Fuck! Maybe Cheever is all I have ever wanted. I do not think I will ever be able to get over these stories. Six stars.

Favorites:
“Goodbye, My Brother”
“The Summer Farmer”
“The Housebreaker of Shady Hill”
“The Worm in the Apple”
“The Country Husband”
“The Music Teacher”
“The Death of Justina”
“The Brigadier and the Golf Widow”
“The Swimmer”

“We can cherish nothing less than our random understanding of death and the earth-shaking love that draws us to one another. Down with the stuffed owl in the upstairs hall and the statue of Hermes on the newel post! Hock the ruby necklace, throw away the invitation to Buckingham Palace, jump up and down on the perfume atomizer from Murano and the Canton fish plates. Dismiss whatever molests us and challenges our purpose, sleeping or waking. Cleanliness and valor will be our watchwords. Nothing less will get us past the armed sentry and over the mountainous border.” (“The Lowboy”)

مشاهده لینک اصلی
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