I've been meaning to read something by John Cheever for a while now, ever since the college bookstore I work at carried a big book of his stories for a class, and I heard a thesis presentation on his work. However, I never actually picked anything of his up and it was by pure luck that I discovered him in a short fiction anthology that I've had for a few years now.
"The Swimmer" is one of Cheever's most famous short stories and actually originally began as a novel of over 150 pages, though it is now only about eight. It tells of a man, Ned, who, while at a party, decides to swim home (his house is eight miles away). He decides to call his route, which is really a network of swimming pools, the Lucinda River, after his wife. He swims and drinks and chats with the pool's owners, though after awhile, it appears that his life is slipping away. When he reaches home, his whole life seems to have passed him by over the course of the afternoon.
Cheever creates a wonderfully interesting a character - a man, "far from young," who nevertheless still slides down banisters and embarks on silly excursions. His thoughts and feelings are perfectly fitted to his journey and character, moving from frivolous optimism to fatigue and confusion and finally to exhaustion and loss and a refusal to give up. I love how surreal the story is - two apparently different timelines merge into one as Ned literally journeys through life over the span of an afternoon and a few short pages. I think the story's conciseness really works to its advantage - though I can see how it could be a novel, it seems as though that would make it a little overbearing and even difficult to stomach. My only complaint would probably be the first paragraph - it doesn't seem to fit the story and starts in a rather trite manner. Don't be discouraged by that though - "The Swimmer" is worth a read and I will definitely be reading more of Cheever's work.
You can read "The Swimmer" here. I'd love to hear what you think!