Jacob's Reviews > The Stories of John Cheever

The Stories of John Cheever by John Cheever
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Dec 05, 11

bookshelves: i-own, 2007-2009, short-fiction
Read from August 01 to September 30, 2009

October 2009
Ὦ ξεῖν', ἀγγέλλειν Λακεδαιμονίοις ὅτι τῇδε
κείμεθα, τοῖς κείνων ῥήμασι πειθόμενοι.
I'm not a very good student of History. I haven't read Herodotus, or Thucydides, or the other great classical historians. But I did see 300, and I spent about five minutes on Wikipedia, so I know a little about the Battle of Thermopylae. There's a monument there, at the site of the battle, with a neat little epitaph in Greek (see above) which, according to one translation, says:
Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by,
That here obedient to their laws we lie.
Now, I'm no great student of Greek either, but those lines strike me as inaccurate. They're too formal, too quiet, too...well, humble. And if Frank Miller taught me anything, it's that the Spartans were anything but humble. Or quiet. Which leads me to believe the more accurate translation should be something like this:
Hey, you! Prick! Go tell everyone how awesome we were!
Yeah, that's more like it.

Now, what does that have to do with The Stories of John Cheever? Good question. The way I see it, this handsome little collection presents itself just like that monument at Thermopylae. It is formal, humble, almost genteel--in a way, it is itself a monument to Cheever: "Go tell the readers, stranger passing by, that these are the stories of John Cheever. They are fairly good. You are invited to peruse them, if you like, and judge for yourself."

Bullshit. That's sissy Athenian talk. Humble and polite Greek doesn't cut it, not here, which is why you know--you just know--that what this book is really trying to say is:
THIS. IS. CHEEVER!
FUCK YEAH.
Ok, I'll admit, this comparison isn’t entirely apt. While Cheever and Sparta may both be awesome, they are hardly the same kind of awesome. The Spartans were loud and ultraviolent and homoerotic; Cheever was quiet and dry-witted and clever. You would never see a Spartan reading Cheever. The Spartans were too brutal for Cheever (perhaps they would prefer O'Connor instead?), so it would probably be up to the Athenians--those philosophers, those boy-lovers--to appreciate this book: if a copy of The Stories of John Cheever, with English-to-Ancient-Greek translation, fell back through time and landed in the acropolis, you can bet the Athenians would interpret it as a message from the gods and model their society around these stories. The result, no doubt, would be the most fascinating Ancient Middle-Class Suburban Greek society ever, one in which all the statesmen play tennis between debates in the agora, the philosophers are drunk on gin, and everyone is hush-hush about the pederasty.

But I digress. These are some damn good stories. Real top-notch stuff. Granted, a few of the weaker samplings should’ve been drowned at birth, but the stronger ones (my particular favorites: "Goodbye, My Brother," "Clancy in the Tower of Babel," "The Children," "The Day the Pig Fell Into the Well," "The Duchess," "The Angel of the Bridge," and "The Swimmer," among others) could stand their ground against the mighty hordes of Persia, and I should just stop right here.

Now then, stranger passing by, go and tell everyone how fucking awesome this is.
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Reading Progress

08/05/2009 page 65
9.38% "Five stories in (reading one per day, so this'll take a while) and I'm already pretty impressed. I'm going to enjoy the next two months..." 1 comment
08/08/2009 page 103
14.86% "Read "Torch Song." Reminded of "Breakfast at Tiffany's," only more depressing. Joan should take lessons from Holly Golightly..."
08/11/2009 page 128
18.47% ""Clancy in the Tower of Babel." How good is Cheever? Well, he got me to like--well, sympathize with--a good ol'-fashioned homophobe..."
08/19/2009 page 236
34.05% "I probably wasn't supposed to laugh at the end of "O Youth and Beauty!", was I?" 1 comment
08/30/2009 page 347
50.07% "Read "The Country Husband" a few years ago in college, but sometime between then and now I must've forgotten it was by Cheever. Good stuff."
09/06/2009 page 423
61.04% "Read "The Music Teacher." Witchcraft-by-piano. Awesome."
09/15/2009 page 521
75.18% "Still good--but, after reading this for a month and a half, I'm getting a bit tired. Maybe one per day wasn't the best way to tackle this?"
09/23/2009 page 598
86.29% ""The Geometry of Love": "Lois Mitchell just telephoned. Harry got drunk and put the kitten in the blender."" 1 comment
09/30/2009 page 693
100.0% "Took me two months, going one at a time. You'd think I would've had a review ready..."
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Comments (showing 1-19 of 19) (19 new)

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message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

Yay. A Cheever groove. What's your favorite story so far? I used to read this collection every year. Enjoy.


Jacob Meg wrote: "Yay. A Cheever groove. What's your favorite story so far?"

Only made it through seven so far, but the first ("Goodbye, My Brother") stands out the most. "The Common Day" and "O City of Broken Dreams" were also pretty strong stuff. So is everything else, but you did ask my favorite.




message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

It makes sense that "Goodbye, My Brother" would be first. I do recall it being a good one, and collections usually start with a strong story, or is this in chronological order? I'm away from my book at present, so I can't refresh my memory. Glad you are enjoying it.


Jacob Meg wrote: "It makes sense that "Goodbye, My Brother" would be first. I do recall it being a good one, and collections usually start with a strong story, or is this in chronological order? I'm away from my boo..."

Mostly chronological, according to the preface. It's a nice collection so far. Nice book, too. Like the cover. I found The Stories of Richard Bausch a while back and thought it might've been with the same publisher, due to their similar covers, but they're not. Shame. I was starting to hope there was an entire alphabet of works like it, an A-Z of all the big-name short fiction writers. That would be nice...




message 5: by [deleted user] (new)

Jacob wrote: "Meg wrote: "It makes sense that "Goodbye, My Brother" would be first. I do recall it being a good one, and collections usually start with a strong story, or is this in chronological order? I'm away..."

I have that Bausch collection. Maybe we should start an A-Z list. That'd be cool. I'd have lots to add as I'm short-story obsessed and I know there would be others.



Jacob New favorite: "The Children."

I can see why you reread this every year or so. I might just do the same...




message 7: by [deleted user] (new)

Deleted members always make me sad. :(


Jacob Me too, although not sad enough to stop me from deleting a bunch of comments between message 5 and message 6 because I accidentally called Alan Beard "Adam." But Meg was pretty cool. Along with Adam Alan, we were a wee short story fan club. Ah, the good ol' days.


Alan Adam here (don't know how to do that crossy out thing) - yes I want Meg to come back! She gave me many pointers to story collections, and is a damn good story writer herself. Stories rule, don't you know.


message 10: by [deleted user] (last edited Sep 03, 2010 05:41AM) (new)

You do this <.s> and then you close it with this <./s>. I put a period in the tags so it wouldn't get all taggy and actually strikeout what I was saying. Mentally remove.

I interacted with Meg a little, and I remember her being really smart and thoughtful. :(


message 11: by Alan (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alan Thanks <.s>Ceridwin Ceridwen. I'm still in touch with Meg, but I miss her on GR.


message 12: by Alan (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alan oh bollocks <.s>Ceridwi<./s> - is that going to work?


message 13: by Alan (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alan nope I'm just too thick for this game of soldiers, or am I?


message 14: by Alan (new) - rated it 5 stars

Alan Yay!


Jacob Take the period out. She only put that there to show you how the strikethrough looked.

I found Meg on Facebook after she left GR last year, but I must have deleted her at some point. Will have to seek her out again.


message 16: by Moira (new) - added it

Moira Russell Cheever! Yeah, he's awesome. I love this book.

Go tell the Spartans, stranger passing by,
That here obedient to their laws we lie


Um well actually ohghodthisiswhypeoplehateme that was Simonides, the Greek lyric poet, star of Mary Renault's The Praise Singer and remembered for that grisly bit where he had such a good memory he could remember who was sitting where in a dining-hall that collapsed. He had rather a good gig going as a writer of epitaphs commemorating the war dead. So yeah, it's very Greek and understated and pretty, with its subtlety and poignant air &c &c.

The Spartans themselves tended to be rather more, uh, pithy, apparently -- "With this or on it," "Come and take them," "My virtue is my dowry," and so on. But it's not true they had no poets -- there's Tyrtaeus, who wrote about victories and military shit as you might expect, but also Alkman, who wrote very pretty odes and songs that are "unSpartan." Most of the stuff about Sparta was written by non-Spartans for literary and political ends, especially how it's set up as a foil for gabby, democratic, excellent, no-false-modesty-here Athens.

(I really deserve all the cookies in the world for not launching into a blow-by-blow explanation of HOW VERY INACCURATE 300 is.)


message 17: by Jacob (last edited Dec 05, 2011 05:09PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jacob You do deserve all the cookies! (My mom makes wonderful springerles)

I mean, I'm aware that 300 is very historically inaccurate, but (not being a good student of History) I never took the time to find out just how much--but I figured it wouldn't matter, because I really wasn't going to do the research to write accurately about Sparta in a review of Cheever's stories. I was just having some fun, is all...

ButIdon'thateyouforthis because your comment was really interesting and I'm in awe of your better-than-mine history lernin'. You just shouldn't take my reviews so seriously :)


message 18: by Moira (last edited Dec 06, 2011 12:26AM) (new) - added it

Moira Russell SPRINGERLES, NOM.

You just shouldn't take my reviews so seriously

Taking things too seriously is My Bag, man. It's like a social ungift.


-- Also, if you want to see people with REAL historical learnings froth about 300, http://history-spork.livejournal.com/... is hilarious.

Also, what does killing a wolf have to do with becoming king? Leonidas succeeded his half-brother Cleomenes…

under somewhat questionable circumstances, too…

…so there were definitely no wolves involved.

Besides, didn't Sparta always have two kings?

Yes, but I suppose that wasn't hardcore enough for this movie.

Also, it really needs to be mentioned that the classical Crypteia initiation rite for young Spartans was the killing of Helots to keep the slave population frightened.

But that would mean acknowledging that slaves made up by far the greatest part of Spartan society! Can't have that, can we?



message 19: by Dianne (new)

Dianne How very clever and interesting!


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