I begin my week as plain me, on an easy Monday morning, of a certain year of my life. By noon, I grow a few inches, in greatness, as I come to inhabit all these lively short stories that quietly unfold under my eyes. I am a shapeshifter of fictional garment. For the last month or so, I have been living inside John Cheever, in a strange acuteness of senses. I stepped into Shady Hill right after breakfast, spent the whole morning there, shared lunch with a certain Frances Weed, Jupiter and the torn slipper at my feet, then took a nice siesta, my sleepy eyes on the precious lowboy, only to wake at dusk, on a night where kings in golden suits ride elephants over the mountains.
So here is Shady Hill, a place of many virtues, yet untraceable on the face of earth, nearby Macondo, the paradise village of magic, butterflies and love, right next to Yoknapatawpha County, where three novels grew. I might sound like a bookworm, which I am to a certain extent, or as someone out of this time, but have you ever envied the writing of a person to the moon and back? In an arduous, teeth-grinding way of stealing the words into your own self, in the hope that some shred of magic might rub on your skin into skillfulness? This is just about as powerful my relationship with John Cheever's writings is. These short stories of his have simply split into my mind with a bang, feeding my need for his lushness of language to the last drop, throwing me into a state of littleness that could only be lifted by immersing my senses into another exquisite short story. They are soft, well-knit, balanced, humane, striking, revealing such inner turmoil in the suburbs that everybody wants to pay his characters a long visit. The irony of it relies in the fact that his characters are simple, unadorned, unexceptional human beings that face challenge and life in its bareness, in the most every day circumstances. Yet, despite its trivial aspect, John Cheever manages to render the ordinary sameness of people in a truthful manner, with a softness of language that penetrates every fiber of the reader. For instance, in The Enormous Radio, the need to gossip and thrive on the misfortunes of others grows into a burden that suppresses not only the ears of Jim and Irene Westcott but their spirits as well, disclosing their meanness as well. Oh, gratuitous prying has never felt better. Still, there is a hidden shred of both contempt and pain within the most comfortable and pleasant joys and when given the right trigger, all coziness and apparent bliss shatter to pieces.
John Cheever was often called the "Chekhov of the suburbs" and some may think that there is much grit in this statement. To me, this would be an understatement since his prose enraptures the reader's mind and sensitivity to a deeper level than the Russian writer. Take Reunion, for example. A short piece, almost reminding me of flash prose and the Palm of the Hand Stories of Yasunari Kawabata, where a young man is shortly reunited with his estranged father. Between trains, they move from restaurant to restaurant in an attempt to identify the perfect and most satisfactory services, which only seem to be an excuse meant to cover the father's inability to deal with the situation. The son is but a mute spectator to his father's bragging, vulgar manner of treating people, caught somewhere between humorous and ridiculous tingles. Reactions and feelings are rendered in almost perfect manner, making both reunion and story a memorable one. His greatness and uniqueness resides in his familiar manner of turning the most ordinary events and people into fascinating objects of desire. The reader finds himself drawn into this small world of little puppets on a string that smile our own smiles, frown our own eyebrows and ache our own pain. Familiarity breeds contempt... and much gratitude for the blessing of distilling our selves into John Cheever's writings.