Monday, August 6, 2012

Short Take: "The Enormous Radio," John Cheever

This review was originally published on Pol Culture.

John Cheever’s short story “The Enormous Radio,” originally published in the May 17, 1947 issue of The New Yorker, is one of his most highly regarded. It’s sleekly written, but one may find oneself questioning its reputation. The protagonists are an upwardly mobile New York City couple who appear to be living an ideal life. But one day their radio--the daily source of their beloved music--breaks down, and the husband buys an expensive replacement The new radio turns out quite differently than expected. It doesn’t just tune in the local stations. It eavesdrops on their neighbors, and initially the couple are quite repelled--both at how it disrupts the music they enjoy, and at the troubled goings-on in the others’ homes. The wife, though, feels increasingly compelled to listen in, and the radio eventually becomes the catalyst for all the conflicts between the couple coming to the fore. The perfection of their life is revealed as a sham, a façade. The story may be an example of one that time has just passed by. Its main insight--that pretensions of a perfect life are simply denial of the stresses and problems everyone faces--seems slight and banal. The problem may be that too many other writers have since mined this theme for Cheever’s treatment to remain worthwhile. In addition to the story’s New Yorker appearance, it is also featured in The Stories of John Cheever collection.

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