Thursday, March 19, 2009

Bullet Park

Bullet Park (1969), John Cheever’s third novel, continues his string of novels portraying life, especially life in the suburbs, in a light that becomes darker and darker with each succeeding book. Unlike his first two novels, both featuring the Wapshot family, Bullet Park does not use humor to soften Cheever’s vision or message.

Bullet Park is every bit the typical 1960s northeastern United States suburb. It is populated by white-collar professionals whose wives are left at home each morning when the men head to the train station and a day’s work in the city. It is a place where image is important, where one’s children are expected to succeed, where being seen in church on Sunday mornings is still important, and where adultery and drinking too much are common.

Cheever tells his story from two distinct points-of-view, beginning with Eliot Nailles who lives comfortably in Bullet Park with his wife and son. No matter how comfortable they might appear to be, however, no member of the Nailles family is particularly happy, or even content, with life in Bullet Park. Eliot still considers himself a chemist but works on nothing more exciting than the formula for his company’s latest mouthwash; Tony, his son, is reacting badly to poor high school performance; and Nellie, his wife is unhappy about Eliot’s reaction to their son’s problems.

The second part of the novel is narrated by Paul Hammer, a newcomer who moves to Bullet Park with his wife, and feels drawn to the Nailles family by the strange conjunction of their family surnames. This part of the novel deals almost exclusively with Paul Hammer’s memories of his past rather than with any interaction between the two families, making the novel’s thrilling climax an even bigger surprise to the reader than it otherwise might have been.

In Bullet Park, Cheever has created a surreal neighborhood filled with eccentrics and troubled cynics where anything might just happen - and often does. It is such a biting piece of satire, in fact, that one has to suspect that it reflects a lifestyle that Cheever found to be particularly meaningless.

Rated at: 4.0

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