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The Swimmer ()

He was not a practical joker nor was he a fool but he was determinedly original and had a vague and modest idea of himself as a legendary figure. The day was beautiful and it seemed to him that a long swim might enlarge and celebrate its beauty.
Neddy Merrill, like all of us, wishes to be the hero of his own story, thus that "legendary figure." Likewise he refers to himself as an explorer as he swims across eight miles of Westchester County via local pools. While that sounds like a riff on The Odyssey, John Cheever said he set out to portray a modern Narcissus. The problem is that where the Greek hero saw his own beauty in his reflection, Cheever was a man consumed by self-loathing so when he looked into the pool(s) he perceived his own ugliness. Neddy too, despite having started well, ages and deteriorates mentally and physically as he journeys. And Cheever, having led the reader to believe that his hero is popular and successful, gradually reveals that Neddy is a broke philanderer with a broken family headed home to a house he no longer owns. He asks:

Was his memory failing or had he so disciplined it in the repression of unpleasant facts that he had damaged his sense of the truth?
Assuredly it is the latter

Folks have tended to want to read into this story some kind of grand messages about suburbia or the middle Class or the collapse of the American Dream. Rather, it seems a particular and personal reflection by one writer upon himself. It's an impressive literary exercise, but its artistic value perhaps resides only in its portrait of such a deluded soul. In our current age that's mainly useful for understanding how the likes of MAGA's losers end up claiming greatness for their Identity. Instances of destroying any sense of truth.


Grade: (B-)


See also:

John Cheever (3 books reviewed)
Short Stories
John Cheever Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA: John Cheever
    -FILMOGRAPHY: John Cheever (IMDB)
    -INDEX: John Cheever (The New Yorker)
-AUDIO INTERVIEW: Terkel reads from "The Swimmer" and interviews author John Cheever (Studs Terkel, 1970)
-SHORT STORY: The Swimmer (John Cheever, 7/18/1964, The New Yorker)
    -WIKIPEDIA: The Swimmer (short story)
    -ENTRY: THe Swimmer (
    -AUDIO: From the Poetry Center Archive: John Cheever reads "The Swimmer" (92nd Street Y, December 19, 1977)
-RADIO PLAY: The Swimmer (Radio Play Revival)
-STORY OF THE WEEK: The Swimmer, John Cheever (1912–1982), From John Cheever: Collected Stories & Other Writings (Library of America)
    -PODCAST: The Swimmer (Anne Enright, The New Yorker Fiction Podcast)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: THE LATE-SUMMER MELANCHOLY OF ‘THE SWIMMER’: John Cheever's story is the perfect thing to read as August nears its end (Nick Ripatrazone, 8/22//22, Gawker)
    -ESSAY: The Swimmer by John Cheever – into a suburban darkness: This classic tale has echoes of many other great stories, but stands on its own as a portrait of a disintegrating man (WB Gooderham, 31 Aug 2015, The Guardian)
But whereas Gatsby’s wilful self-deception indirectly cost him his life (his body found floating in his pool, no less), the character and fate of Ned Merrill seems closer to that of another tragic Fitzgerald hero: Tender is the Night’s Dick Diver. Both are aging lotharios whose weakness of character and drinking have estranged them from friends and family; both are financially ruined; and both suffer the arguably more tragic fate of being exiled from the kingdom they once ruled.

    -ESSAY: Weekend Short: ‘The Swimmer’ by John Cheever (LUTHER RAY ABEL, February 11, 2024, National Review)
    -ESSAY: Personal Best: The Swimmer (Michael Chabon, 9/30/96, Salon)
    -ESSAY: My Favorite Short Story: The Swimmer by John Cheever: Deep Thinking About Great Books Studied 24 Famous Short Stories in March of 2018. This One Was My Favorite (Spencer Baum, Dec 15, 2018, Medium)
    -THESIS: The Archetypal Significance of John Cheever's "The Swimmer" (Mary Reagan,Texas State University )
    -ESSAY: SWIMMING HOME WITH JOHN CHEEVER (Jennifer Makowsky, 24 April 2006, PopMatters)
    -ESSAY: “‘Swimming in Money’ and John Cheever’s ‘The Swimmer’” (David Ullrich, 24 Aug 2020, AMQ)
    -ESSAY: Damned in a fair life: Cheever's "The Swimmer." (Stanley J. Kozikowski, Summer 1993, Studies in Short Fiction)
    -ESSAY: America Has the Bends: How Cheever Used “The Swimmer” to Critique the American Dream (Kevin Hutcheson, Dec 4, 2014, Medium)
    -ESSAY: Exploration and Colonization in John Cheever’s “The Swimmer” (Interminable Ramblings)
    -ESSAY: Changing: A Short Study on John Cheever’s “Swimmer” (Yanfei Li, Jingdong Zhong*, and Yuting Lv, May 2024, Frontiers in Sustainable Development)
    -ESSAY: Allusions to "The Great Gatsby" in John Cheever's "The Swimmer" (Allen, William Rodney, Summer 1989, Studies in Short Fiction)
    -ESSAY: Coming Home: A Look at John Cheever’s “The Swimmer” (Herbert Plummer, July 26, 2019, Notebook in the Rain)
    -ESSAY: John Cheever’s “The Swimmer” and the Sorrow of the Internet (EQUITIES NEWS TEAM, JUNE 12, 2019)
    -ESSAY: Reading John Cheever’s “The Swimmer” (Charles May, Shelf Media)
    -ESSAY: Leave it to Cheever (Steve Garabino, 11/25/2001, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: Monomyth in John Cheever’s Short Fiction “The Swimmer” (Arati K Thakur, April 2015, Labyrinth: An International Refereed Journal of Postmodern Studies)
    -ESSAY: Lisbon and Hackensack in Cheever's 'The Swimmer.' (David J. Piwinski, Spring 1996, Studies in Short Fiction)
    -VIDEO LECTURE: Nightmare in Suburbs: English Prof Explains Cheever's "The Swimmer," A Modern-Day Odyssey Analysis (Dr. Whitney Kosters, 11/27/23, YouTube)
    -STUDY GUIDE: The Swimmer (Course Hero)
    -STUDY GUIDE: The Swimmer (NASRULLAH MAMBROL, OCTOBER 5, 2021, Literary Theory and Criticism)
    -STUDY GUIDE: The Swimmer (An Interpretation of "The Swimmer" by John Cheever (REBEKAH NYDAM, SEP 13, 2017, HubPages)
    -STUDY GUIDE: The Swimmer (LitCharts)
    -STUDY GUIDE: The Swimmer (A Summary and Analysis of John Cheever’s ‘The Swimmer’ (Dr Oliver Tearle, Interesting Literature)
    -STUDY GUIDE: The Swimmer (SparkNotes)
    -STUDY GUIDE: The Swimmer (Cliff Notes)
    -ESSAY: Cheever's Art of the Devantating Phrase (Brad Leithauser, 5/30/2012, The New Yorker)
    -ESSAY: The demons that drove John Cheever: John Cheever, brilliant chronicler of American suburbia led a tortured double life filled with sexual guilt, alcoholism and self-loathing. On the eve of a major new biography, Rachel Cooke travels to his beloved home in upstate New York, and meets his daughter, son and 90-year-old widow (Rachel Cooke, 17 Oct 2009, The Guardian)
The journals contain some of the best sentences Cheever ever wrote, but, my God, they are horrifying. The pain, the loneliness, the secrecy, the shame: Cheever, an imposter in his own life, turned self-loathing into an art form.

    -ESSAY: Imagining One Last Lunch with My Father, John Cheever: Benjamin Cheever Wonders How He'd Explain Donald Trump (Benjamin Cheever, June 22, 2020, LitHub)
    -ESSAY: The Pain, Hidden in Plain Sight, of John Cheever’s Darkest Work: Rick Moody on Bullet Park (Rick Moody, December 18, 2019, LitHub)
    -ESSAY: Here’s definitive proof that John Hughes was a fan of John Cheever. (Raf Richardson-Carillo, September 2, 2022, LitHub)
    -ESSAY: One great short story to read today: John Cheever’s “The Enormous Radio” (Emily Temple, May 15, 2024, LitHub)
    -PODDCAST: Christine Coulson on John Cheever and Dorothy Parker (In Conversation with Catherine Nichols, Lit Century Podcast, November 21, 2023, LitHub)
    -INTERVIEW: Emma Cline on Anaïs Nin’s Erotic Fiction and John Cheever's Journals (Book Marks, 8/11/20)
    -ESSAY: Mad Men is leaving Netflix. Time to read John Cheever. (Raf Richardson-Carillo, June 2, 2020, LitHub)
    -INTERVIEW: The Library of America interviews Blake Bailey about John Cheever (In connection with the publication in March 2009 of John Cheever: Collected Stories and Other Writings and John Cheever: Complete Novels, edited by Blake Bailey, Rich Kelley conducted this exclusive interview for The Library of America e-Newsletter) [PDF]
    -ESSAY: John Cheever's 'Housebreaker,' Welcome as Ever (JONATHAN YARDLEY, July 20, 2004, Washington Post)
    -ARCHIVES: John Cheever (LitHub)
    -ARCHIVES: John Cheever (The Guardian)
    -VIDEO ARCHIVES: “john cheever” (YouTube)
    -REVIEW: of The Swimmer (Monique, Short Story Station)
    -REVIEW: of The Stories of John Cheever (John Leonard, The New York Times)
    -REVIEW: of The Journals of John Cheever (Geoff Dyer, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Cheever: A Life by Blake Bailey (Adam Mars-Jones, The Observer)
    -REVIEW: of Cheever: A Life (Blake Morrison, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW:‘The Swimmers’: A Long Song to Memory: Julie Otsuka’s third novel, the California Book Club selection for September, performs a rescue of what might otherwise be forgotten. (JOHN FREEMAN, SEP 13, 2022, California Book Club)


    -WIKIPEDIA: The Swiimer (1968 film)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: The Swimmer (1968) (IMDB)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: John Cheever (IMDB)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: Sydney Pollack (IMDB)
    -FILMOGRAPHY: The Swimmer (Rotten Tomatoes)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Swimmer: A prophetic modernist fable set in a fading Eden (Michael Atkinson, Library of America)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Swimmer (Mitchell Beaupre, Paste)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Swimmer (Vincent Canby, NY Times)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Swimmer (Kim Newman, Empire)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Swimmer (Roger Ebert)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Swimmer (Time Out)
    -FILM REVIEW: The Swimmer (Travis Woods, Bright Lights/Dark Room)
    -BALLET REVIEW: Swimmer, SF Ballet : Wading into the current fascination with 1960s culture, "Swimmer" dives and bobs along, neither drowning in excess nor floating as a completely coherent work. (John Sullivan, Culture Vulture)

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