For months now I’ve been reading nothing but John Cheever and Raymond Carver, and of their work, only the shorts. Perhaps it is because shorts are the candy of the literary world. These little treats that you consume quickly and that ultimately leave you wanting more. It’s not that one isn’t enough, it’s just that that having had one perfect little bite doesn’t stop you from wanting another. Anyway, I know that what kept me bound bouncing back and forth between these two authors was the similarity of their points of view and how uniquely American their work feels. Like equal and opposite characters, both write straightforward stories about the sadness and loss of everyday people. Funny, dark, candid pieces that make you want to do nothing but drink and smoke. Like suburban chroniclers on opposite sides of the track they give you moral-less stories of people you already know. Without pretense or trickery both authors write with a blunt realism that to me lies at the heart of American literature.
For those of you that don’t know John Cheever is a product of the east coast/old guard world, writing about the upper/middle class, while Raymond Carver is from the next generation of west coast authors that focus more on the lower/middle class. What I realize is that by reading these men as a pair and seeing the disparity between east/west, rich/poor, old/new, that I was also able to see that they have captured what is common amongst these worlds. What Carver and Cheever make clear is that no matter where we are, and what sort of life we lead we are surrounded by incongruity. In their work the drunk and the reformer, the ignorant and the educated, the spiritual and secular, simply are. These counterparts are never put into conflict with one another, rather they exist side by side easily and without judgment. It is this acceptance of duality within everyday existence, that makes their work so tangible and addictive. I think it is also why their stories are able to make me feel at home in the chaos of the city. I could go on but instead I’ll just urge you to remember them next time your looking for a good read.