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The Savagery of Cheever,
This review is from: Collected Stories (Vintage Classics) (Paperback)
I had never read Cheever before and this Vintage collection begins with a tale of reunion where a large family are reunited at some decaying holiday place on the coast. The most surprising ,member of the reunion is the youngest brother nicknamed Tifty, whose derision for his family is represented again and again throughout the story. Finally the narrator recognises that all his brother's energy is directed towards farewells and that such goodbyes reveal an innate sense of moral superiority that patronises and alienates all whom he encounters along life's road. The compression of:
'It was elegaic and it was bigoted and narrow, it mistook circumspection for character, and I wanted to help him.'
gives superb voice to the revelation of the brother's smallness of imagination and spirit. The surprise of the attempt at compassion is thwarted by the cruel consistency of Tifty's derision. The 'savage' then is released from the carefully guarded civility of the reunion and the narrator takes up a sea soaked root and delivers a cathartic blow across his brother's head. All respect for respect has gone. This blow is fierce and 'savage' and marks the conclusion of the youngest brother's relationship to his family. The narrator finishes his narrative with a transcendent, compassionate glimpse of his mother and wife bathing naked in the sea.
'Oh, what can you do with a man like that? ...How can you dissuade his eye in a crowd from seeking out the cheek with acne, the infirm hand...
The sea that morning was irridescent and dark. My wife and my sister were swimming - Diana and Helen - and I saw their uncovered heads, black and gold in the dark water. I saw them come out and I saw that they were naked, unshy, beautiful, and full of grace, and I watched the naked women walk out of the sea. '
The naturalness and grace of mother and wife are communicated in a near mystical prose that celebrates the unique connection between human beings at a special moment in their time and that of the planet. The warmth of the narratorial viewpoint seems a welcome release after the prickly, guarded intimacies reprrsented throughout the rest of the story. Here, the women seem figures of myth; goddesses emerging out of the constraints of some narrow history, perfect figures of natural sensuality.
Ironically it is the act of savage retaliation against the constant negativity of the youngest brother that allows such mystical expression.
Sometimes as Cheever and Dylan Thomas both knew- only rage will do!