Sunday, April 26, 2009

Short Story Sunday: "The Hartleys"

I am steadily making my way through the Library of America's Cheever: Collected Stories & Other Writings and I remain impressed by how much detail John Cheever could pack into a ten-or-twelve-page short story. Many of his short story characters are as fleshed out and memorable as those from his five novels.

One of the first stories in the collection is "The Hartleys," the story of a young couple who, along with their little girl, have decided to revisit the places that once made them happy. One of those places is the Pemaquoddy Inn at a little upstate New York ski resort they had last visited some eight years earlier.

Other guests of the inn note how attached the little girl is to her father, even to the point of preferring his company to that of her mother, and how when her parents are on the ski slope she never takes her eyes off them as they work their way back down to where she waits.

As the story progresses, the reader begins to get a growing sense that all is not well with this little family despite their best efforts to blend into the community they have temporarily joined. Cheever turns that sense of unease into one of true dread as the story approaches its unforgettable ending.

"The Hartleys" may only be nine pages long but no one reading the story will soon forget it.


  1. The only Cheever story I've read is The Swimmer, but I loved it! After reading The Wapshot Chronicle (which I really liked, too), I wonder if the short story is where he really excelled. I know I'll be reading more of both his novels and stories.

  2. I haven't read Cheever in ages. I should find my copy of this one and give him another look. I do remember that I loved him, and I can recall some of his stories in great detail.

  3. I've read most (but not all) of Cheever's short stories and "The Hartleys" stands out in my mind. I don't know why but when I woke up this morning, I started thinking about it. The meaning in Cheever's stories are usually hard to figure out while you are reading them but often becomes clear either right after you've finished or soon after. I've never quite got a handle on what Cheever was getting at with "The Hartleys" and that's why I came to this site. It's a great story. Very melancholy and more than a bit odd. And then THAT ending. Oye. Ten years after reading it, the ending has stuck in my mind.

  4. Pertismon, I can't honestly say that I've been thinking about this story lately, but re-reading this post makes me want to pull out that Cheever collection again...great stuff. Thanks for commenting.

  5. I can never look at a rope tow without thinking of that story. I'll never forget it.

  6. Anonymous, it is certainly a haunting image, isn't it?