Sunday, June 26, 2016
The true significance of Cheever's Enormous Radio
Another excellent story in the best american stories of the century anthology is john cheever's The Enormous Radio, title story in I think his first collection and one of his sharpest and most disturbing portraits of life among the well-educated , privileged Manhattanites of the 1940s - just a few years ahead of the mad Men era - similar in caste and background but w a little less flash. This story is about a couple 9 years married w two children meeting all of the parameters for conventional success - he a product of Andover in some demanding but dull and unspecified Jo's in finance and she with her empty forehead signifying nothing a stay at home w little to do - it's taken for granted that she will have a maid to do all the child care and housekeeping (even tho $ is tight whatever that means). Husband purchases the eponymous expensive radio and it receives mysterious signals which woman gradually understands to be pickups of conversation from many other units in thei building - all of them sad and desperate including worries about $, about health, about loneliness, nasty comments about neighbors, finally a man hitting his wife - in short she begins to understand the tormented secret lives of so many of her neighbors and social peers who wear a veneer of happiness and content. This of course leads her to ask her husband about their own lives and he responds with at first seems subtle contempt but becomes increasing domineering and disturbing. The story recalls in some ways the famous Yellow Wallpaper but in this case without the implication the she is going insane - the radio is accepted as real within the parameters off the story (he hears it too) - in fact the radio is something like the author himself living among others of his class but surreptitiously listening, observing, exposing the hidden and frightful truths about himself and others.