M Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction are some of my Literary Interests

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

"The Swimmer" by John Cheever

John Cheever
"The Swimmer" by John Cheever  (8  pages, 1964)


You can here a pod cast of the story Here

John Cheever (1912 to 1982-Quincy, Massachusetts) is probably most highly regarded now for his short stories which were mostly set in New York City and the American North East region.   He received a Pulitzer Prize in 1979.   His two most famous novels are The Falconer and The Wapshot Scandal.     Before I posted on his perhaps best known story, "The Enormous Radio"  I had last heard of Cheever on an episode of the Jerry Seinfeld Show.    


    The central and really only character in "The Swimmer", set in an affluent suburb of New York City, is Neddy Merrill.        Neddy Merrill seems well into middle age but regards him self as still having the vitality and charm of youth.    As the story begins he is at a cocktail party (imagine someone out of the TV series Mad Men to visualize  Neddy.) and he comes up with what seems like a very original idea.    In the area where he lives it seems  most people have back yard swimming pools.    Neddy comes up with the idea of getting home from the party by swimming through all of the pools on the path to his house.    Of course this involves a lot of walking and talking to the people who own the pools, many of whom he already knows.    At first everything is a lot of fun and people are happy to let him swim in their pools.


Something strange begins to happen.  (From this point on there will be some slight spoilers).   He finds one of the pools in his path drained and the house for sale even though he saw it very recently and has no memory of anything like that.   Neddy fears either his memory or even worse his sanity is slipping away when at the next house the owner tells him she is sorry to hear of his money and family problems as he has no idea what she is talking about.   At the next house he is treated very nearly as a vagrant showing up at the door asking for money even though when he began the swim he was a typically affluent member of the community.   Neddy begins to feel that time is passing much more rapidly than it should be.   He began his swim project in midsummer and now the pools are cold and he also notices that he seems to be aging in that he has a hard time swimming the pools now.   He stops at the home of a former mistress and she tells him not to try borrowing money from her again and he notices she seems to have a distressingly young boyfriend now.   There is more but this is enough to convey the story line.    Time is going by too rapidly and unexplained changes  that should take years happen  over the course of an afternoon or so it seems to Neddy.


The question for the reader is then "what is going on?".    Has Neddy died and entered a form of hell?    Has he passed into the Twilight Zone (for sure this would have been a great plot for the old TV show of that name), has he simply lost his mind and imagines future events or are the future events real time and the notion that he is fit and affluent a fantasy of a lost past?     Is it all a dream?


"The Swimmer" is a good entertaining story that will engage your mind.   I think it would be a good story for teachers.  Ok,  Cheever is not Chekhov, du Maupassant or Mansfield but I enjoyed this story and think other will also.    The story sort of feels like it was written to be a popular broadly liked story rather than as an attempt at  high art.   I endorse it for anyone who likes a fun short story.


The story can be read online here


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1 comment:

JoAnn said...

The Swimmer was one of the first short stories I reviewed on my blog, and it's still one of the most memorable. Glad you enjoyed it, too!