Preparing for career week in high school, the guidance counselor asked what type of job I wanted to have. I told him I wanted to be an author. He asked what type of writing I wanted to do, and I replied that I wanted to write stories based on the suburban experience. “You should read John Cheever,” he suggested and then assigned me to an internship with the local newspaper. Of course, I didn’t listen to his suggestion and didn’t read John Cheever until now (with one exception).
I was drawn to the Audion Collection from an episode of To The Best of Our Knowledge which featured clips of the stories read by Meryl Streep, Blythe Danner, George Plympton, and Cheever himself among others. I am pretty amazed by these scenes of middle-class life in post-WWII America. The stories describe a time gone by but still very familiar as it captures an era that was coming to an end in my childhood. Cheever captures the everyday grief, mundacity, and petty jealousies of his characters. Sometimes his stories take on a surreal Twilight Zone feel as in “The Enormous Radio” where the titular device broadcasts the conversations of other residents in an apartment building or “The Swimmer” where a man attempts to swim home through all the backyard swimming pools in his neighborhood on a journey that takes years. There also is a time an O’Henry feel in stories like “Christmas is a Sad Season for the Poor” where in an ironic twist a poor elevator man requires more gifts than he knows what to do with.
The stories are grim, the characters are unlikable, but there’s something in the gritty humanity of Cheever’s stories that make me like them and want to read more. Credit should be given to the voice actors who bring these stories to life as well.