Cheever Redux

If you’re going to wrestle with despair, do it in style…

“Light and shade, pleasant and discordant noises, the singing of the cleaning woman and the thumping of the washing machine are dealt like a series of blows. I cannot think of the stories I have to write without a sharpening of this visceral pain.  I cannot invent terms or images of repose. I grant myself all the privileges of a liar, but there is no heart in my lies and inventions.  There is nothing. There is neither ecstasy nor repose, there is only the forced illusions of these things. The span between living and dying is brief and anguished, and the soul of man is reflected not in snug farmhouses and great monuments but in fourth-string hotel rooms, malodorous and obscure. This is all there is.  There is nothing. Tired but sleepless, lewd but alone, hopeless, drunk, sitting at the window on the airshaft in some other country: this is the image of man. I remember those midtown hotels, the Carlton in Frankfurt, the Eden in Rome, the Palace in San Francisco, hotels in Hollywood, Innsbruck, Toledo, Florence. Here is the soul of man, venereal, forlorn, and uprooted. All the rest of it – the cheering lights of morning, sweet music, the towers and the sailboats – are fantastic inventions, evasions, lies, vulgarities, and politenesses poorly invented to conceal the truth.”

I’m a sap, so my favorite thing here is the juxtaposition of Toledo and Florence.


  1. Churchill says

    I think Cheever is better than that, although I haven’t read him in a long time, and I think Updike is a useful writer, but he wasn’t right about everything.

  2. Churchill says

    Anyway, I’m sorry not to contribute more in the way of comments, but my computer isn’t working.

  3. Matthew Lickona says

    It’s not entirely clear to me how Cheever can be better than that, since that is Cheever, although it is certainly true that a man may be better and worse at various times. So yeah, that’s not Cheever at his very best, which is probably okay, since it’s from his journals and not his published, crafted work. Updike wasn’t right about everything, but he was right about the Resurrection.

    • Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

      Ayn Rand wasn’t right about everything, but she was right about the Law of Identity.

  4. Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

    See also.



    John Cheever, of course, is a likely influence on Mad Men — which may be why, when he says this…

    … and the thumping of the washing machine…

    …I think of this:

    ‘Betty’s Afternoon’

    Golden sunbeams crawl.
    Sway, sway, washing machine — Ah!
    It isn’t perfect.

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