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Saturday, May 7, 2011

"Thirteen Uncollected Stories", the early John Cheever

Thirteen Uncollected Stories- John Cheever

Initially, this book was an unexpected reason to celebrate. More stories from John Cheever! A young Cheever! In my idea of heaven, Cheever and Scott Fitzgerald are very close friends and have regular long walks while they wait for the rest of the boys, a.k.a as Kerouac, Carver, and the newcomers Salinger (who doesn't talk much) and Hunter S.Thompson (there's always an eccentric one on a group, right?). Then they gather on a table, always reserved by Dorothy Parker, who is joined by Carson McCullers and Flannery O'Connor, for drinks and endless debates. So I guess you have an idea of how excited I was when I realized about when I knew about this publication. In principle.

"Thirteen Uncollected Stories", or "Fall River" (Spanish title) is a collection of stories originally published in the 1930s and 1940s, in different magazines, and compiled for the first time. The collection was intended to be much larger than just thirteen stories, but the opposition of the Cheever family ended on a long litigation. The result is this partial selection of young (barely out of his teens) Cheever's fiction. A revelation of the beginnings of a masterful writer.

The inexperienced Cheever wasn't the "Chekhov of the suburbs" yet, and some of the first stories or the book are focused on lives during the Depression in small, dying towns where social analysis is present, while others, located in Saratoga, are focused on character studies of women in an style that seems to connect with Fitzgerald. But unfortunately, and being 100% objective about the book itself, the "real Cheever" only appears a few times.

For the majority of the collection you have mainly sketches of characters that crumble or are stuck by something. A dialogue or a deep introspection moment shows there's a voice emerging, wanting to be heard.  But "our" Cheever is only present in "The Autobiography of a Drummer", with its painful ending monologue; "In Passing", probably the best tale of the selection, with real strength and bitterness; and "The Opportunity" that despite its ending combines some sort of twisted humour with two excellently crafter characters. Not saying that's all you'll find here ("The Teaser" and "Bayonne" are also remarkable) but we are talking about the man responsible of "The Enormous Radio", "Goodbye, My Brother", "The Swimmer", "The Rural Husband"... There's no bigger enemy for this young Cheever than the old John Cheever.  

"Thirteen Uncollected Stories" is a precious material for fans, just for the sake of its existence. But as a book, only at times is an absorbing reading, being more a mixed bag if we go through the stories one by one. Want to discover Cheever? Couldn't encourage you more to do so. But start by "The Stories of John Cheever" or his novels, and after an exciting trip, you will probably like to end by knowing the young Cheever.

SCORE: 5/10

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