Monday, March 2, 2009

Cheever Reconsidered

By Lars Trodson

I wouldn't pretend even for a second to know more about John Cheever than one of his biographers -- or even the editors of The New York Times. But it seems that the title of an article about Cheever that appeared in Sunday's NYT's Magazine got it exactly backwards. It seems appropriate to bring this up because we just happened to write about Cheever here just a few days ago.

"The First Suburbanite", as the piece is called, was written by Charles McGrath and a welcome attempt to keep Cheever relevant. But I don't think Cheever was the first suburbanite -- rather, he was most definitively the last.

The suburbs -- is the term really used at all, any more? -- were once a fascinating place because they were built and then populated by the men and women who were -- as John Kennedy said in his inaugural address -- “tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage...”

They were renewing America in ways they saw fit -- rejecting the family farm, embracing a computerization of the workplace and the home, and informed by a daily philosophy fueled by capitalism and upward trajectory.

But it was never enough. Cheever’s people coped with this place, in part, by alcohol and flights of fancy. They couldn’t flee to France, so they retreated inside themselves, and they hurt themselves.

Now, today, the upward trajectory of Americans have led them to flee not the cities and the farms, but the suburbs - back to the cities, and some respects, back to the family farm. Suburbia has long been chronicled as a place of lurking and ever-present horrors, so, as a place, as a state of mind, it might not have anything left to say.

Here is the article on John Cheever, who can give you a detailed glimpse into post-war 20th Century America, if you so choose: