Short Stories by John Cheever and Raymond Carver

“The Swimmer” by John Cheever and “Feathers” by Raymond Carver

For this one-meeting short story intensive, we will look closely at these two works that share an aesthetic of overturning the rules of normality in suburban life. We will consider each work individually, and find areas of overlap as the impressions of each inform the other.

“When John Cheever first began writing “The Swimmer,” he conceived of it as a novel—and he actually wrote a good chunk of it before reconsidering. As Blake Bailey relates in his biography, “Soon Cheever suspected he had ‘a perfectly good’ novel on his hands,” but his self-assurance gradually turned to dissatisfaction:

“As he began to find the core of the story, he threw away pages and took yet a different approach. The main technical challenge, he realized, could not be sustained over the course of the novel: that is, Neddy could not possibly repress the truth for some two hundred pages. . . .

“From the approximately 150 pages of material he had assembled, Cheever carved out his finely honed story. Michael Chabon, who first read it as a teenager, called it “a masterpiece of mystery, language and sorrow. It starts out, on a perfect summer morning, as the record of a splendid exploit . . . and ends up as a kind of ghost story.”

from The Library of America website

Raymond Carver is considered by some to be the post-modern king of the short story. He refused traditional narrative conventions and was a practitioner of a stripped down minimalist style where significant meaning may lurk in the pauses and silences as much as what is said. His characters at times seem to evoke our pity, other times our disgust: but all are fully drawn and compelling in the shards of the lives that Carver offers us.

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Posted on

January 18, 2018