Short Story #299: The Swimmer by John Cheever

Title:  The Swimmer

Author:  John Cheever


Photo of John Cheever.  Source: Merrill is spending his midsummer Sunday with a group of friends poolside, enjoying the day.  People are recovering from the previous night's drinking and he is contemplating returning home.  He slowly realizes that if he plans it right he could easily swim his way home by a mixture of cutting through backyards and swimming through the pools of people he knows.  It would be several miles of travel but he rather liked the idea and decides to pursue it.  He sets off in the current pool and then makes his way into the next yard.  He has it largely mapped in his head and finds his way easily from yard to yard.  At times, he encounters friends whom he briefly chats with before jumping into the pool and swimming across.  Many are happy to see him and offer him a drink so as he goes along, he begins to feel more and more fatigued.  While this is happening, the clouds are gathering and a storm is imminent. When the storm does hit, he finds shelter in a neighbor's gazebo before moving forward.  The second half of his journey, he encounters increasing confusion as he seems to forget what has happened to certain people and others raise questions about things that he no longer remembers.  He continues to run into obstacles such as the highway he must cross in just his bathing suit and empty pools.   He encounters his mistress whom he had clearly mistreated but doesn't seem to care. As he hones in closer to his home, his energy is all but gone and he can barely make it across the pools.  When he arrives at home, he finds there is no one there to answer his knock and no lights on.  When he looks in the window, he finds the house is empty.


I rather liked the story's structure and pace.  At first, I was confused as to what he was actually doing but once I understood he was swimming across pools, it made more sense (after all, I certainly tried to do similar things with going through backyards, growing up).  The parallels of his journey with that of life are pretty clear and I like how Cheever juxtaposes his progress in distance with a loss of energy and stature.  

Short Story #299 out of 365
Rating:  4 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  10/15/2014
Source:  You can read the full story at this website.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.

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