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John Cheever: Goodbye, My Brother

SeoulMan

Member
Discussion of this classic short story will begin August 11, 2008.

This 1951 short story is, in my opinion, one of the best written short stories in Western Literature. Cheever has such a great command of the English language and is able to convey such heartfelt emotion with it.
 

Robert

Active Member
The only short story by John Cheever that I have in my collection is The Death of Justin. I'll have to look elsewhere.
 

Robert

Active Member
Ok, it's the first story in a book called The stories of John Cheever. I'll check tomorrow to see if it's available.​
 

SeoulMan

Member
Yes, Robert. I've been busy lately with work so I haven't been checking this forum (and other forums) as zealously as before. I've already read this short story a couple weeks ago. I'll try to read it again this weekend. Thanks for the reminder.
 

SeoulMan

Member
This short story is easily among the Top 5 Best short stories I've ever read. The first time I read it was about three weeks ago. I ran across a magazine article where they interviewed this female author -- Aimee Bender, I think. She said that whenever she gets writer's block or when she gets frustrated with the writing process, she reads "Goodbye, My Brother" for inspiration. So, I read it, too.

Reading this short story leaves me a sense of awe and wonder. The writing is so wonderful and purposeful; Cheever paid very close attention to the language to bring out the character of the "fallen" brother. For example, when the narrator and his brother Lawrence walked together on the beach at the end, the narrator describes that the things they saw lying around on the sand were like his brother -- bent and broken:

"There was a spine of a shell, a broomstick, part of a bottle and part of a brick, both of them milled and broken until they were nearly unrecognizable, and I suppose Lawrence's sad frame of mind -- for he kept his head down -- went from one broken thing to another."

Sometimes, I marvel at how Cheever was able to accomplish what he did, the way he was able to make me feel what he wanted me to feel.

The paragraph near the end where the narrator lists all the things his brother quit (and said "goodbye" to) was brilliant. Cheever departed from the rhythm of this story by going with a staccato-like laundry list. Now, I wonder if Tim O'Brien copied Cheever with this device when he wrote "The Things They Carried."
 

Robert

Active Member
I haven't had a chance to read it yet, SeoulMan. I should be able to read it tonight so we should be discussing it tomorrow. Sorry for the delay.
 

Robert

Active Member
I read the story and I have to admit that I didn't understand Lawrence. He was never happy about anything and seemed to find something wrong with anybody that did find something to be happy about.

I enjoyed the story, but I have the feeling that I missed the point.
 

SeoulMan

Member
I think Lawrence is one of those types of people who are at odds with themselves: on the one hand, he's obviously very smart who wants to accomplish great things in life, and on the other hand, he hasn't accomplished those great things and is disappointed -- in himself and in others. He's just bitter.

At the end of the story (after getting his head bashed), he returns to the house and announces to everyone that he's leaving with his family: "I don't have any more time to waste here. I have important things to do. I have important things to do."
 

Robert

Active Member
I think Lawrence is one of those types of people who are at odds with themselves: on the one hand, he's obviously very smart who wants to accomplish great things in life, and on the other hand, he hasn't accomplished those great things and is disappointed -- in himself and in others. He's just bitter.

At the end of the story (after getting his head bashed), he returns to the house and announces to everyone that he's leaving with his family: "I don't have any more time to waste here. I have important things to do. I have important things to do."

See's himself as an underachiever? I can see that. I don't remember seeing anything in his past that would drive his self-doubt. I feel sorry for his family.
 

SeoulMan

Member
I also think he's trying to blame others for his failure. He wants an environment where he can thrive and do great things. But time and again, other people have let him down. Note all the people and places and jobs that he quit and said "goodbye": college roommate, Yale, first employer, Protestant Church, the middle class, private enterprise, public enterprise, Washington, neighbors, Chicago, Kansas, his family at Laud's Head.

He's blaming others for his failures. At the root of it all is his family which he blames most of all.
 

Robert

Active Member
Did he actually have failures, or is that he sees something in the situation that he dislikes and leaves?
 

SeoulMan

Member
Perhaps a little of both. It's not that he's a "failure." I think I used this term too carelessly. I think he just hasn't done "great" things (he talks about having "important" things to do), not that he's a failure. He dislikes wherever he is because he's not doing "great" things, and so he leaves. It's just easier to blame others.

Of course, all of this is just my own personal BS. I don't really know. I'm just interpreting the story as I read it.
 

Robert

Active Member
Perhaps a little of both. It's not that he's a "failure." I think I used this term too carelessly. I think he just hasn't done "great" things (he talks about having "important" things to do), not that he's a failure. He dislikes wherever he is because he's not doing "great" things, and so he leaves. It's just easier to blame others.

Of course, all of this is just my own personal BS. I don't really know. I'm just interpreting the story as I read it.

I don't think you're far from the mark, SeoulMan. It could be a case where he's his own worse critic.
 

ArunSaxena

New Member
in deed its one of the most intriguing short stories i have ever read! hats off to Cheever for he brought the narratives so lively especially that of Lawrence's. the lucid writing style of the author is just too good! any one out there who can recommend some other short stories by John Cheever?
 
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