i’m not sure when i first read john cheever’s “the swimmer”, although i recall the melancholy that followed with acuity. a teenager laying on the sofa in the living room, head propped up on one arm, feet dangling over the other (making little flipper movements–sympathetic assistance for neddy merrill), i want to believe it was summer/fall just as it was in the story, but that may be projection.
my identification with the swimmer was not social or economic; we were not connecticut wasps (although i did aspire to that lofty social position, recalling now my mother saying, “stop putting on airs, who do you think you are?” as clearly as if i still were putting on airs, or possibly striving to understand why cheever touched me so.)
and once “the swimmer” was under my belt, the cheever floodgates opened and i devoured as much as i could of his literary output, and repeatedly read him well into my 20s, a shelf in my ‘library’ devoted to a collection of cheever paperbacks. i know that i was particularly attracted to his patrician good looks, his khakis, his button-down oxford shirts he was always photographed in–although i didn’t try to emulate that style until much later, you do remember “the yuppie handbook”, don’t you?, but drawn to him as if he were speaking directly to me, my life.
in 1974, cheever published “the leaves, the lion-fish, and the bear” in esquire magazine and suddenly, at least for me, the revelation that he could, that he would, write about love and sex between two men made all of my love for him as a writer that much more concrete.
has cheever held up over time? i haven’t read his work since his daughter, susan, published her biography and then only to reacquaint myself with his cadence, his economy, his pencil sharp observations of a life that in some small way reflected what i thought of myself, at that moment in time, laying on a sofa reading “the swimmer.”