Saturday 6 April 2024

Torch Song by John Cheever

Big Johnny C.

John Cheever is often considered one of the great American short-writers of the 20th century. Although I can certainly understand the appeal from a stylistic or thematic standpoint, he's an author that doesn't quite resonate with me on a personal level. While I don't deem personal relatability a prerequisite for enjoying a written piece, it sure does help and usually enhances the experience. This stance isn't a slight against Cheever or a critique of his literary craftsmanship; rather, it underscores the diverse palette of tastes and preferences we each possess. Apart from the memorable encounter with his famous story, "The Swimmer," which left an indelible mark on me years ago, none of his other works have elicited a similar response. Unfortunately, "Torch Song" finds itself in this category. On a more positive note, Cheever's elegantly concise writing style stands out here. There is a precision and fluidity to the prose that feels very compact. However, the story is quite lengthy and it's ambiguity left me mostly confused.

We are presented with a central narrative concerning the male protagonist named Jack Lorey and his friendship with a woman named Joan. They grew up together in Ohio and eventually run into each other on numerous occasions in New York city over the course of several decades. He's successful and dating other people while she continually ends up in abusive relationships with terrible men. Jack's perspective is flawed and while he perceives her as the victim in these situations, this might not be the case at all. There are subtle horror elements to this story that may not become fully apparent until the very end. The nature of evil is an important theme to consider. If Joan is a black widow or some sinister entity that feeds off the misery of men, one might ask what this all adds up to? I really don't know and perhaps reading it again might prove beneficial to gain a deeper understanding of its layered meanings. The problem is, I have no interest in doing so.

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