Monday, December 22, 2008

Reader's Diary #425- John Cheever: Christmas Is A Sad Season For The Poor

Short Story Monday

With a title like "Christmas Is A Sad Season For The Poor" you might be expecting a rather sombre tale. And, depending on your perspective, you might get it. However, I found it a little amusing.

If you've ever seen the Saturday Night Live character "Debbie Downer," you'd have a good idea of the type of humour employed by Cheever. If you haven't, Charlie Brown is also a pretty close comparison. Charlie Brown actually came to my mind first probably because "Charlie" is also the name of Cheever's main character. Basically, Charlie is so filled with self-pity and woe, it's almost ludicrous. Working as an elevator operator on Christmas Day, his response to everyone who wishes him a merry Christmas is some variation on the phrase "not for me."

Buried beneath this little bit of not-quite-dark-but-slightly-gray comedy, there's a lot more going on. There's somewhat of a "pay-it-forward" message at the end. There's also a lot to say about perspective. New York is a perfect setting for such a story. If you're in New York and you can't find someone who is worse off than you and someone who is better off than you, you're simply not trying. As Charlie begins his day, he thinks, "Of all the millions of people in New York, I am practically the only one who has to get up in the cold black of 6 a.m. on Christmas Day in the morning; I am practically the only one." But as he goes out to eat and takes a train uptown, I started to think, "but what about the people operating those? Didn't they have to get up at least as early?" Turns out, I was on the right track in terms of the direction the story was heading.

A fine story, and if you share the same sense of humour, not as gloomy as you might expect.


Michele said...

I enjoyed it, actually. And I'm really liking your Short Story feature! Very cool idea.

Remi said...

I love John Cheever, though I always feel a bit like a vicarious lush reading him with all his cocktails and wines and such. Everybody should pick up a used copy of his stories to dip into when you need to see what a good story should be.

Definitely not your normal feel good story though it turns out well. I hope for a soundtrack you played Stan Rogers' First Christmas while reading it.

raidergirl3 said...

I read this one this year as well. I too found it very amusing, and all about perspective. Those type of self-centered people drive me nuts, only seeing the worst that happens to them.

John Mutford said...

Michele: I like searching for the next online short story almost as much as reading them.

Remi: Do you know how many times you've sent me to iTunes this year? Do you have stock or something?

Raidergirl: It was your review of The Penguin Book of Christmas Stories that sent me in search of Cheever's Christmas story in the first place. Thank-you!

Beth F said...

I love John Cheever's stories. Actually, I like the whole family's writings.

John Mutford said...

Beth: I didn't know anyone else in the family wrote.

Remi said...

You're in for a treat. Stan wanted to write a song for the people who were on their own for Christmas. It's an unabashed tear jerker but I can't help playing it a couple of times each Christmas season.

Maybe I do need to get some stock in apple. . .

Anonymous said...

Don't forget this claymation classic for the holidays...

The Junky's Christmas
read by the author, William S. Burroughs

Part I

Part II