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by John Cheever

Pub Date: March 1st, 1994
ISBN: 0-89733-405-1
Publisher: Academy Chicago

After years of litigation between the publisher and Cheever's estate, this collection of 13 stories now in the public domain proves something of a disappointment. While Cheever fans will be grateful for a sampling of his juvenilia, others should be warned that these pieces are hardly typical of his best work. Most first appeared in the 30's and bear the marks of their time as well as the influence of Hemingway, Fitzgerald, and Depression fiction. The earliest stories, from small avant-garde magazines, stress atmosphere over character; they're bleak, abstract expressions of social jitters during an anxious era of poverty and decline. When Cheever begins to find a voice, his fictions become more convincing. A pre-Miller, post-Dreiser traveling shoe-salesman ("The Autobiography of a Drummer") laments his once thriving business. "In Passing" records Cheever's dissatisfaction with left-wing ideology as his young protagonist drifts through lean times. A number of stories deal with working women at turning points: a waitress who suddenly realizes how empty her routine is ("Bayonne"); a hard-working dancer, hired to lend legitimacy to a strip show, who loses herself in her stage persona ("The Princess"); a 52-year-old stripper who, with great dignity, shows she hasn't lost it ("The Teaser"); and a young nanny who reveals a surprisingly refined aesthetic sense ("The Opportunity"). Equally clever and in the same commercial vein are three stories from Collier's, all set on the fringes of high society in the world of horse-racing. With an O. Henryish twist, "His Young Wife" pits an older man against his wife's infatuation with a gambler her own age; "Saratoga" also testifies to the gambler's insatiable habits; and in "The Man She Loved," a socially ambitious dowager manque is determined that her daughter marry well. Cruel fate, not dysfunction, reigns in these clever narratives. At best, middle-brow fiction in the O'Hara-Cozzens mold.