What Can We Steal From John Cheever’s “Reunion”?
Title of Work and its Form: “Reunion,” short story
Author: John Cheever
Date of Work: 1962
Where the Work Can Be Found: The story was originally published (where else?) in The New Yorker. You can find it in Cheever’s Collected Stories. Hey, check it out! Here’s a recording of Richard Ford reading the story that is hosted on The New Yorker’s web site.
Element of Craft We’re Stealing: Communication of Pathos (Emotion)
“Reunion” is as short as it is powerful. Charlie, the first-person narrator, describes the brief reunion he had with his father. Charlie was a kid at the time and all Dad wanted to do was drink and…well, that’s about it. Charlie gets on the train, never to see his father again.
The narrator is so calm in the story, even though you know that there’s a lot of emotion wrapped up in the experience. One way that you can tell is the frame into which Cheever has painted the story. Here’s the first sentence:
The last time I saw my father was in Grand Central Station.
And here’s the last one:
“Goodbye, Daddy,” I said, and I went down the stairs and got my train, and that was the last time I saw my father.
There’s a symmetry to the story, as though the narrator has closed a chapter of his life and has made it clear to the reader that he has no more to say on the subject. You don’t have to be told explicitly; you can feel the closing of a door.
There’s further repetition at the end of the story. Charlie calls his father “Daddy” three times. Three is a magic number, isn’t it? Can you hear the different tones in which young Charlie would use the word?
- Emotional detachment.
(You’re free to have differing opinions; you see the point.)
Cheever packs a lot of pathos into “Reunion” without really offering much explicit insight into the narrator’s thoughts. Instead, Future Charlie reports the events and we are invited to make our own conclusions as to what he is feeling. Doesn’t this mimic the process by which we do the same thing in our own relationships?
What Should We Steal?
- Employ repetition to communicate emotion. It is often far more fulfilling to understand something by figuring out the subtext instead of simply being told. This is also the way that so many emotions are communicated in real life. A dissatisfied significant other may not sit you down and tell you how they feel. They will, however, repeatedly treat you in a manner that should clue you in.
- Make use of three, the magic number. Three just feels natural for some reason. Beginning, middle, end. Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Larry, Moe, Curly. Tinker to Evers to Chance.