I heard that John Cheever was one of the masters of short stories so I decided to go and introduce myself via this collection compiled by a Polish publisher in the 70s. It is made up of six stories:
"The Housebreaker of Shady Hill"
"Boy in Rome"
"O City of Broken Dreams"
When I read the first one I was puzzled. I expected to be blown away and it left me lukewarm. I thought: "maybe short stories are really not my thing." But when I kept on reading it finally dawned on me what it was all about.
Cheever writes about suburbian lower middle class. In each story he takes his 'hard working' and 'decent' characters and makes them face their worst fear, the fear of moral decay, of falling out the societal mainstream.
Johnny Hake from "The Housebreaker of Shady Hill" finds himself in a difficult financial situation so he steals from his affluent acquaintance and thus becomes in his own eyes the worst scum on earth.
In "The Torch Song" we have a woman of 'Breakfast at Tiffany's' sort, whom the main character tries to avoid lest she should infect him with death, sickness and general decline that seem to surround her.
"The Hartleys" was my favourite story in the collection because of the slap in the face ending.
It is about Mr and Mrs Hartley who try very to come across as a decent and normal family.
There is also a very cynical ode to New York in "O City of Broken Dreams".
I will be reading more of John Cheever because I enjoy how he gently kicks all the good and decent people exactly where it hurts. And if making fun of picture perfect American families from the 50's is your thing, you should read him too.