Sunday, May 03, 2009

Short Story Sunday: "The Worm in the Apple"

Since my wife's out-of-town this weekend, I read another John Cheever short story with my lunch. I'm reading from a collection of all of Cheever's stories and choosing stories based entirely on my reaction to his titles; if the title makes me curious, or gives me a particular image, I read the story to see how closely my imagined plot fits the actual story.

Some titles, like "The Worm in the Apple," don't tell me much about a story's content but give pointed clues to its tone. As it happens, "The Worm in the Apple" was difficult to predict from its title but, as I suspected, it is another version of Cheever's generally low opinion of life in the suburbs. One has to suspect that Cheever was not exactly a fan of "Leave It to Beaver."

"The Worm in the Apple" is about the Crutchmans, a family that seems too perfect to some to be real. The neighbors believe that the Crutchmans cannot possibly be as successful or happy as they appear and that the family is working doubly hard to hide its problems and failures. Friends and neighbors are not about to let them get away with that little charade.

A few "worms" did show up in the Crutchman apple over the course of the years, of course, as they always will. However, much to the disappointment of those keeping score, the Crutchmans always manage to get past any family setback or misstep and to remain as happy and successful as ever. As Cheever put it, near the end of this little five-page story, "one might wonder if the worm was not in the eye of the observer..."

"The Worm in the Apple" is a reminder that some people are insulated by their enthusiasm for life and that, almost by habit, they make the most of what each day brings them. On the flip side, it also reminds that others are so unhappy with life that they desperately want to believe that everyone else feels the same. Sadly, I have to believe that Cheever himself falls in the latter camp.

1 comment:

  1. I guess I'm more hopeful about Cheever's overall outlook than you are. But his stories are terrific in any case. I can't really think of a genuinely happy one, but that doesn't necessarily mean he was an unhappy person overall. The art is not the artist.

    I really should reread him. Maybe find a biography, too.