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IN BRIEF

Fiction

March 13, 1994|SUSAN SALTER REYNOLDS

THIRTEEN UNCOLLECTED STORIES BY JOHN CHEEVER edited by Franklin H. Dennis. (Academy Chicago Publishers: $19.95; 227 pp.) This is not the martinis-on-the-veranda, yacht-club-and-family-gatherings Cheever of the collected stories. This is the Cheever who, in real life, was paralyzed by his fear of bridges, the Cheever who would dutifully put on a suit and hat each morning and travel down in the elevator of his New York apartment building to the storage bin in the basement that he used as his "office." The stage for these stories is the Depression, middle-America, joblessness and risking all 50 of the dollars in your pocket at the racetrack. But his characters are bathed in that same unearthly, sourceless light as the poor slobs on the verandas. The things we depend on, like family, institutions, banks and governments, usually betray Cheever's characters, regardless of whatever shields they erect--money, marriage, society--against this fate. So these stories, written in the 1930s and 1940s when Cheever was in his 20s and 30s, have many of the same qualities as the later stories. It's just that the heroes are aging salesmen and aging dancers, waitresses and strippers. Stylistically, however, Cheever was still in master Hemingway's thrall, which may have distracted him from his true lusciousness in more ways than one. (This is the famously litigated collection from which the Cheever family eventually managed to have a number of stories held out.)

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