There wasn't going to be a Short Story Monday post this week. Therese Raquin has been so enjoyable that I didn't want to stop for a story. But, as I was perusing some blogs on Sunday morning, I came across Sam's review of The Wapshot Chronicle by John Cheever. It sounded so appealing that I had to read Cheever - now. None of his novels are on my shelves, but I did find a story in my Norton Book of American Short Stories.
The Swimmer was published in 1964 and may be Cheever's most famous short story. It opens memorably with the line:
"It was one of those midsummer Sundays when everyone sits around saying, "I drank too much last night." "
We meet the main character, Neddy Merrill:
"He might have been compared to a summer's day, particularly the last hours of one, and while he lacked a tennis racket or sail bag the impression was definitely one of youth, sport, and clement weather."
While at a party, Neddy decides to swim home across Westchester county following a route (named Lucinda River, after his wife) of swimming pools with short portages in between.
"Making his way home by an uncommon route gave him the feeling that he was a pilgrim, an explorer, a man with a destiny, and he knew he would find friends along the way; friends would line the banks of the Lucinda River."
It is a gorgoeus summer day and Neddy's main thought is how to avoid having a drink at each friend's pool without being rude, as this would delay his arrival at home. However, about half way there, a storm occurs and later, people aren't quite as glad to see him.
"I'm swimming across the county."
"Good Christ. Will you ever grow up"
"What's the matter?"
"If you've come here for money," she said, "I won't give you another cent."
Time seems to have passed - leaves are falling and the wrong constellations appear in the sky.
"Looking overhead, he saw the stars had come out, but why should he seem to see Andromeda, Cepheus, and Cassiopeia? What had become of the constellations of midsummer? He began to cry."
The journey has become surreal. Time has become warped. When Neddy finally does reach home, the narrative takes on the feeling of a ghost story. I was very taken with this story and will definitely be reading more of John Cheever.