Tuesday, May 27, 2014

"I just want to put my hand around your ankle. I’ll be very happy to pay you."

John Cheever was born on this day in 1912.

Some of the most effective stories I've read this year have been Cheever's, and what makes them work for me is the quiet control, the clarity that he brings to his prose.

This writing seems at first glance understated and almost impersonal... which makes it all the more shocking when his characters reveal the chaos behind their eyes. As much as I love horror fiction, I have to admit that being ambushed by a slice-of-life-in-the-suburbs tale has the advantage of surprise; you can never tell how a Cheever story might twist around and stab you in the gut.

But along with horror, the stories conceal humour as well -- often bizarre, absurdist humour of the "what the hell was that?!?" variety. And this, too, becomes all the more effective when set against the calm assurance of the prose.

I put off reading Cheever for a long time, because I suspected that his themes and settings and people would not interest me. I was wrong. Dead wrong.

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