Cheever

Reading the Journals again.  How can I not, when the first line of the first entry is, “In middle age there is mystery, there is mystification”? (I did not remember this, but merely felt impelled to pull the book from the shelf last night.)  When the seventh page yields this:  “As I approach my fortieth birthday without having accomplished any one of the things I intended to accomplish – without ever having achieved the deep creativity that I have worked toward for all this time – I feel that I take a minor, an obscure, a dim position that is not my destiny but that is my fault, as if I had lacked, somewhere along the line, the wit and courage to contain myself competently within the shapes at hand.  I think of Leander and the others.  It is not that these are stories of failure; that is not what is frightening.  It is that they are dull annals; that they are of no import; that Leander, walking in the garden at dusk in the throes of a violent passion, is of no importance to anyone.  It does not matter.  It does not matter…”

I owe his son Benjamin an apology.  I told someone recently that Benjamin published his father’s journals against his father’s explicit wishes, that he had announced as much in the book’s introduction.   This was, in fact, exactly backwards.  His father explicitly requested that the journals be published.  Middle age and failing memory.

How much he had in common with Percy – the Westchester Percy, or Percy the Southern Cheever.  And looky here:  “I remember my father, rising at six.  He takes a cold bath and goes out to play four holes of golf before breakfast.  The links are hilly and there is a fine view of the village and the sea.  He dresses for business and eats a hearty breakfast – fish hash with poached eggs and popovers, or some chops.  I and the dog walk with him to the station, where he hands me his walking stick and the dog’s leash, and boards the train among his friends and neighbors.  The business he transacts in his office is simple and profitable, and at noon he has a bowl of crackers and milk for lunch at his club.  He returns on the train at five, and we all get into the Buick and drive to the beach.  We have a bathhouse, a simple building on stilts, weathered by the sea winds.  there are lockers for dressing, and a fireplace for rainy days.  We change and go for a long swim in that green, dark, and briny sea.  then we dress and, smelling of salt, go up the hill to have supper in the cavernous dining room.  When supper is over, my mother goes to the telephone.  ‘Good evening, Althea,’ she says to the operator.  ‘Would you please ring Mr. Wagner’s ice-cream store?’  Mr. Wagner recommends his lemon sherbet, and delivers a quart a few minutes later on a bicycle that rattles and rings in the summer dusk as if it were strung with bells.  We have our ice cream on the back lawn, read, play whist, wish on the evening star for a gold watch and chain, kiss one another good night, and go to bed.  These seemed to be the beginnings of a world, these days all seemed like mornings, and if there was a single incident that could be used as a turning point it was, I suppose, when my father went out to play an early game of golf and found dear friend and business associate on the edge of the third fairway hanging dead from a tree.”

Comments

  1. That…was…marvelous. What writing! Of course, Cheever was the master short-story man. I wonder if he and O’Connor were aware of each other.

    That book is a needed get now. Thanks.

    Crackers and milk, fish hash. I am woebegone for those woebegone days.

    Resolved: fish hash for breakfast 2013.

  2. …and four holes of golf.

  3. Angelico Nguyen, Esq., OP says

    Called it — three weeks ago.

    Here’s an exercise for someone with loads of free time: A short story, set in 1968, wherein Binx Bolling offers his thoughts on the movie version of The Swimmer. Maybe he and Kate went to see it together, and only one of them has read Cheever’s original story.

  4. Quin Finnegan says

    Amazing stuff I hadn’t read until now. Thanks, Matthew.

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