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My New Book!

Friday, June 21, 2013

June 21, 2013: American Swims: Cheever’s Swimmer

[For me, summer has always meant swimming: in the pool across from my childhood home, at the beaches of Martha’s Vineyard, with my boys. So in honor of the summer solstice, this week’s series will focus on meaningful swims in American culture and history. Add your responses and summertime thoughts for a warm weekend post, please!]
On the pitch-perfect story from one of our true American greats.
There’s only so much room in our collective consciousness, and within that space there’s similarly only so much room for creative writing—which is to say, I understand that not every deserving author is going to be remembered. And I certainly get why John Cheever has largely vanished from our collective memories—like his contemporary John Updike (who similarly is less well-known than he was a few decades ago, although the shift has not been as dramatic in Updike’s case), Cheever tended to write stories about middle to upper-middle class men and families, characters whose identities and communities don’t seem quite multi-cultural enough, nor their problems significant enough, for our 21st century moment.
There would be various ways to push back on those ideas, to argue that our literary canon can and should contain Cheever and Jhumpa Lahiri, and as many other voices as possible. But the simplest and most vital argument might be this: like Lahiri, Cheever was quite simply a master of the short story; there’s no experience quite like reading a perfect short story, and Cheever produced at least a few works that make it into that exclusive category. One of his very best also happens to fit this week’s series perfectly; it’s called “The Swimmer” (1964), and it’s about … no, enough from me. Just read it at that link, and lose yourself in the deceptively shallow waters of Cheever’s funny yet tragic, satirical yet sympathetic tale.
You know what? There’s not only so much room in our collective consciousness, not in this 21st century world of digital archives and virtual classrooms and ever-expanding conversations. If we can work to remember any great writing, we can work to remember all of it—and Cheever and his story are a pretty good place to start.
Crowd-sourced post this weekend,
PS. Summertime stories we should read? Other summer connections you’d highlight?

1 comment:

  1. I've read a lot of short stories that have themes of summer, but no novels come to mind. However, this topic reminds me of one of my favorite movies by Spike Lee. "Crooklyn" (which came out in the 90's) told the story of a young girl's life in Brooklyn during the summer. It showed the contrast of the inner-city with southern suburbia, so you end up getting two viewpoints of summer. In New York: there are fights with siblings over the remote, side walk spinklers, and ice-cream heists from the nearby bodega. In South Carolina/North Carolina/Georgia (somewhere in one of those states) there are barbecues and roller skating. The first vision of summer in New York makes me dream of a hometown I never had, while the second in the South makes me realize that like most things, summer is really all about memories made with family and friends.