Do you ever come across an author that you've heard of, heard good things about, but aren't all that familiar with. And then when you read him, you realize that you are in the presence of greatness? This week I chose a story from The Stories of John Cheever. I know he is a well known short story writer, and something I hadn't realized until I found this book on the library's shelves--he won the Pulitzer Prize for this collection in 1979. I also took advantage of my library's media collection to watch a theatrical performance of the story as well.
When I decided to read something by Cheever and was looking for some of his story collections I discovered that several of his stories had been filmed and were available from the Broadway Theatre Archive. As I've never read anything by Cheever and am not familiar with his work, I picked a story randomly that I could also watch. I'm assuming this is fairly representative of his work. One somewhat cursory reading of the story, I can already tell, is not enough for me to give you a really good impression of just what Cheever is about. I did find an excellent analysis of the story, however (am guessing from the URL that he might possibly be an academic) in case you want to know more.
"The Sorrows of Gin" is an interesting look at affluent suburbia through the eyes of a child. The story is told almost entirely through the eyes of eight-year-old Amy Lawton. The Lawton's lead a somewhat vapid existence. Their days and nights are filled with tennis and cocktail and dinner parties. Rarely do they pass an evening at home alone with their daughter, although that's the one thing she wants most. She seems to spend more time with baby sitters and the endless stream of cooks that pass into and out of her life. One of the cooks, Rosemary, shares the sad story of her sister who died from too much drink with Amy. She tells Amy she'd be proud if she would occasionally pour her father's gin down the sink--"the filthy stuff". Amy takes her advice to heart and does just that, though the blame generally falls onto the hired help with disastrous results. What Cheever excels at is showing the hypocrisy of the gin-soaked adults. While they criticize Amy for her failures, they can't see their own.
"The voices woke Amy, and, lying in her bed, she perceived vaguely, the pitiful corruption of the adult world; how crude and frail it was, like a piece of worn burlap, patched with stupidities and mistakes, useless and ugly, and yet they never saw its worthlessness, and when you pointed it out to them, they were indignant."
It was a new experience to see a short story performed. The adaptation was really well done and featured Sigourney Weaver and Edward Herrmann. It was fairly faithful to the story though there was more to it--sometimes in a short story less is more, if that makes any sense. I'd like to read more Cheever and am not sure what to choose next. Suggestions are (as always) welcome. He has so many short stories (this collection has 61 alone) as well as novels. I am in the process of mooching The Wapshot Chronicle, which sounded very appealing. If you are looking for a very good short story craftsman, John Cheever looks to be an excellent example.