To improve your visit to our site, take a minute and upgrade your browser. There are people who believe that when writers pass middle age their imaginative power—like their sexual energy—tends to diminish. If they are good writers, the argument runs, they have learned their craft by this time, and so their later books have a carefully disciplined, if comparatively lifeless, quality. In his short stories over the past several years, and in his new novel, John Cheever reverses this formula.
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To improve your visit to our site, take a minute and upgrade your browser. There are people who believe that when writers pass middle age their imaginative power—like their sexual energy—tends to diminish.
If they are good writers, the argument runs, they have learned their craft by this time, and so their later books have a carefully disciplined, if comparatively lifeless, quality. In his short stories over the past several years, and in his new novel, John Cheever reverses this formula. In his late fifties, he appears to be almost helplessly carried away by the flood tides of his imagination.
His ear for speech, his eye for significant small actions, his polish, his boldness of invention illuminate almost every page of his work—but these gifts are often lavished on stories which seem, as a whole, unfinished, inchoate, even unserious.
It is as if, in doing his little numbers, in running through the catalog of his many talents, Cheever loses interest in his characters and his story. In his last collection, for example, there are at least three fine stories— The Swimmer, The Ocean and A View of the World —which end in a blur that is all the more unsatisfying for the remarkable precisions that have preceded it.
But after all the collisions, large and small, his characters are still drinking martinis, still making middle-aged love every night, still catching the in the morning, the only real difference being that they have survived the collision. And if that is the meaning of these stories, it is not enough, because the collisions themselves were only catalytic occasions, not great crackings in the surface of the human condition.
The plot of Bullet Park deserves to be called Gothic, with all the reservations that term implies. Eliot Nailles, mouthwash salesman and uxorious husband, meets Paul Hammer, a newcomer to his town, and the accident of their names instantly links their fates.
Though Nailles is normal almost to the point of caricature, his son is stricken with hysterical paralysis and cured by a self-styled swami hired by father. Nailles is no better off, for all his normalcy: he develops train phobia and buys unidentified tranquilizers from a mysterious pusher whom he meets in public rest rooms and cemeteries. Paul Hammer is born out of wedlock and his name is derived from the circumstance of a handy man walking by with a hammer.
And Cheever does not hesitate to have Hammer stumble over these figures—still standing, or lying in bomb craters—when it is his turn to go abroad. She lives in Kitzbuhel, and says that if she were to go hack to the U. When he tries to rent this therapeutic room, the tenant refuses to move. Falling back on his flying tic, he goes back to America, where, miraculously, he happens upon another such room.
This tenant also refuses to decamp, but she is conveniently—or cavalierly—killed in a highway accident. Happy in his yellow room, Hammer resumes his translation of the poetry of Montale. But his peace is soon disturbed by Marietta, a neighbor he falls for and marries. Thunderstorms and assassinations turn her tender; blue skies and prosperity bring out the bitch in her. Nailles, however, is warned by the swami, in whom Hammer has unwisely confided, and he cuts the church door down with his chainsaw in the nick of time.
It is necessary to summarize the plot to this extent because no one would believe it of a writer as talented and sophisticated as Cheever.
On almost every page, someone is doing something highly improbable for a remarkably obscure reason. The wildest turns of events are wantonly invoked simply to move a character from one mood to another, or to bring two people a half-step closer together. Minor characters who appear and disappear in the space of a few pages all have Pinter-like set speeches, center stage.
Ordinary men and women ruminate poetically on philosophical or eschatological questions. People not only try to murder each other: they are killed by cars, trains, even, in one instance, castration fear.
The book abounds in coincidences that would make Dickens blush. Blind passion and impulse are forever bursting the buttons or flies of Brooks Brothers suits. In a peculiar way, Cheever seems to be championing exurbanites, who, he claims, all cultivate a more riotous garden than city slickers imagine.
Everyone is secretly smoldering like a barbecue. Bullet Park is an emotional nudist colony, a cult or commune dedicated to eccentric sexual or religious practices. Or perhaps he regards them as mere screens, or rationalizations. He is determined to be surprising or original, even at the cost of incredulity.
But in morality plays, you at least had a general scheme—a morality—which helped you grasp the meaning.
It will be familiar to his readers. So are his characters, stubbing their toes on immaterial manifestations, the startled victims of a world they never made but inherited along with comfortable assurances of affluence and the moral fixity of God and family values. Until sooner or later there's the misgiving that something has been lost. Or someone. Like Eliot Nailes' son Tony who takes to bed with a depression no doctor can cure — only a swami of dubious origins on the wrong side of town. Or perhaps like Paul Hammer, a bastard who has been circling the world in an alcoholic haze chasing chimera, who doesn't belong anywhere—not even in the bed of his new young wife. It is Paul who finally decides to fulfill his mother's last mad words—that a crucifixion in Bullet Park can shake the world loose from its torporous apathy and the bought releases which make it bearable television for youngsters like Tony, tranquilizers for his baffled father.
Witchcraft In Bullet Park
Look Inside. Welcome to Bullet Park, a township in which even the most buttoned-down gentry sometimes manage to terrify themselves simply by looking in the mirror. Here is the lyrical and mordantly funny hymn to the American suburb—and to all the dubious normalcy it represents—delivered with unparalleled artistry and assurance. John Cheever was born in He is the author of seven collections of stories and five novels. It has the tone of a summing-up and the tension of a vision.