Oh What a Paradise It Seems, published shortly before John Cheever’s 1982 death, is his fifth and final novel. It follows his previous novel, Falconer, by five years and marks a return in tone and style to that of the earlier Cheever novels. If Falconer can be said to be Cheever’s “prison novel,” Oh What a Paradise It Seems is his “environmental novel.”
Lemuel Sears may be fast approaching old age but his interest in women, especially those younger than him, is as passionate as it has ever been. Always on the make, even when he finds himself standing in a long bank teller’s line, Sears manages to strike up a brief conversation with an attractive, much younger, woman that leads him into a rather one-sided love affair. As with so many previous male characters created by Cheever, Lemuel is at a disadvantage in the relationship because Renee remains as big a mystery to him throughout the relationship as she was the moment he first spotted her waiting in line ahead him.
Lemuel is a man of means who still enjoys some of life’s simpler pleasures and he looks forward to the hours he spends ice-skating on little Beasley’s Pond when it freezes over every winter. When he discovers that the pond is being purposely filled in and polluted by illegal dumping at the profit of the local mafia, Lemuel hires his own lawyer and scientist to fight those responsible for destroying the pond and endangering the health of everyone living near it.
Even though, at barely 100 pages, Oh What a Paradise It Seems is technically more a novella than a novel, Cheever, always the master short story writer, includes in it an interesting subplot or two to more fully flesh out his characters. As is so often the case in Cheever’s novels, too, one of the main characters is a reluctant, but active, bisexual male who struggles to control the guilt he feels about his hidden sexual nature. This is such a common theme in Cheever’s work that it is a wonder that the truth about his own sexual nature remained a well-kept secret until after his death.
Cheever barely lasted long enough to complete Oh What a Paradise It Seems before he died of cancer, and he may have intended it to be longer than it turned out to be. However, he packs so much into the novel’s 100 pages that readers will find that it truly does read more like a novel than a novella.
Rated at: 4.0