The Five Forty Eight (Short Story Review)

Friday, September 24, 2010

Welcome to my new weekly feature where I am reviewing one short story a week from the anthology, Wonderful Town: New York Stories from The New Yorker.

Short Story:
The Five Forty Eight
Author: John Cheever
Year: 1954

Alright, well this is the first story in the book and of this feature. I haven't read many short stories ever, really. And apparently this is like a classic in the "genre" of short stories. But this one went over my head, unfortunately. I feel like I got part of it, but after the build up of tension to figure out what happens, I felt confused at the end. It begins with a man getting off of work for the day and noticing a woman who is watching the elevators he just got off of, evidently waiting for him. He tries to escape out of her sight but she eventually catches up to him. The source of their acquaintance is explained through the pages as well as her reason for following him.

Let me give you a little background though, because according to a little googling, I'm clearly missing out on something good here. John Cheever, well known novelist and short story writer, won the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for his book of short stories which included The Five Forty Eight. Various essays have been written about this short story and its underlying theme of good vs. evil and perceptions of reality. It also was adapted to a 1960 episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. This post over at The Perambulator on the style of this short story gave me some more insight into what this story was relaying and some techniques the author used to do so.

Would I have picked up on these subtleties and underlying themes without glancing at these other articles? Yes, probably, if I really put some thought into it and read it over once or twice. But I more likely would have taken it for its superficial qualities and moved on.


Zibilee said...

AHH! This is the thing I don't get with most short stories. Most of them are meant to be read on several different levels, and most of them really have a complex underlying message and theme to them. I so don't always get messages and themes, so a lot of the more critically acclaimed stories go over my head. It's so good to know that you were able to research a bit about the story and come out ahead of the game. I am going to be keeping an eye out for your short story reviews in the future. Who knows, I might learn something!

Jenny said...

LOL, Heather, me too!

Kari said...

I sometimes struggle with short stories for the same reasons. I either love them or hate them. I really enjoy ones that are just a quick snapshot of a life and leave you satisfied without needing more. Jill McCorkle writes great ones that fall into that category, if you're looking for some more short story options. You don't really need to analyze much beyond the surface.

Also, I'm glad I caught this post, because I'd completely forgotten about this book and I was inspired to use it as a gift!

mceyes said...

I hope Fierce Pajamas is in it.

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