Tag: cheever

Cheever, “The Summer Farmer” (1948)

This is in part a Cold War story of assumptions, rivalry, xenophobia, envy, and a false accusation.

Paul Hollis takes the train from Grand Central to his family’s summer home Upstate. Like all Cheever characters he drinks a lot. He’s harried, in half a daze from drink and “signs of obsolete ness.” He has a kind wife and several children. He loves the time away from the city. He likes to farm. He agrees with his wife to get the children a couple of rabbits for the summer, training wheels before they may get a dog in the city. The family’s hourly laborer on the farm is an unreformed communist who raises at capitalism and “those who drank martinis.” Paul almost asks him why he doesn’t go back where he came from, in that veiled way of wasps buzzing passively around the aggressive questions never asked. Kasiak, the laborer, explains how his violent treatment as a child, as if he were a convict, even at his father’s hand, led him to the United States, where he awaits the revolution he is certain will come. The two agree to do a certain chore Sunday morning, as if one upping each other with resolve. “The puerile race of virtue and industry had begun.” Throughout, Cheever paints his bucolic canvas with the summer haze and warmth of his children’s sounds, their father’s sternness, their mother’s affection, the mother’s sister hauled up with the family to dry out, the landscape a narcotic on Paul’s anxieties. Later Sunday, the children scream. The rabbits are dead. Paul immediately accused Kasiak. He even sees poison crystals near the cage. He threatens to kill Kasiak if he were to ever harm the children, as the poison could have done. But Kasiak had not put the poison there. Paul’s wife had, the previous summer, and forgotten it there. Paul and his “loss of principle” take the train back to New York.

The New Yorker, August 7, 1948, The Enormous Radio

Cheever, “The Sutton Place Story” (1946)

Deborah is the not-quite 3-year-old daughter of Katheryn and Robert Tennyson. Her parents party and get drunk so much that “She made Martinis in the sand pile and thought all the illustrations of cups, goblets, and glasses in her nursery books were filled with Old-Fashioneds.” She is mostly cared for by a nanny, Mrs. Hartley, with whom she quarrels as if the two were an old couple. At one of her parents’ parties, they entertain a woman called Renee Hall, an actress, about 35, “dissipated and gentle,” who saw her life disappearing and her wish for a child unfulfilled. She takes to Deborah, but has a falling out with the Tennysons when she becomes too attached to the little girl, lavishes her with too many gifts and even ventures to question her parents’ style:

But eventually Mrs. Hartley hands off Deborah to Renee to look after for a few hours a week, especially when Mrs. Hartley goes to church. One of those days, right after Deborah tells renee that she has a friend called Martha and is dismissed “of course you do”) Deborah disappears. Her parents are in a panic. The search is on. Police finally find her in front of an antique store on Third Avenue. She tells her father she had to find her friend Martha.

The story recall Flannery O’Connor’s “The River,” where of course the boy, also surrounded by drunkard and somewhat more indifferent parents, isn’t found but drowns, looking for his own version of Martha.

[Missing children, panic, loss, unfulfilled life, projection, parenting, drinking]
The New Yorker, June 29, 1946