Recall This Story: Steve McCauley excavates John Cheever's "The Five-Forty-Eight" (JP)


We debut a new feature: Recall This Story, in which a contemporary writer picks out a bygone story to read and to analyze. Surely there is no better novelist to begin with than RTB' shouse sage, Steve McCauley.

And not just because he's got the pipes to power through a whole fantabulous John Cheever story. "The Five-Forty-Eight" (published in The New Yorker 70 years ago) is about sordidness uncovered, a train, and a face in the dirt. It ticks almost every Cheever box, evoking an infinitude of lives unled elsewhere while ostensibly documenting nothing more than the time to takes to down a couple of drinks, scuttle feverishly through some midtown streets, and take a lumbering commuter train out of the city.

Steve feels that in our own century, things have changed for the American short story and there's no going back to Cheever's mode. After Raymond Carver, it would be hard to embrace the proliferation (sometimes dizzying, sometimes delightful) of solid details that Cheever deploys. The two try out a final comparison to E M Forster who also quasi-fit into this society, but, Steve opines, could project himself into his female characters in a way that Cheever cannot or will not.

John Cheever works mentioned:

Works by others:

Listen to and read the episode here.

Your Host

Elizabeth Ferry and John Plotz

Free-ranging discussion of books from the past that cast a sideways light on today's world. Recall This Book is hosted by Elizabeth Ferry, Professor of Anthropology at Brandeis University and John Plotz, Barbara Mandel Professor of the Humanities at Brandeis University and co-founder of the Brandeis Educational Justice Initiative.

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