Themes and Meanings (Masterplots II: Short Story Series, Revised Edition)
In her preface to The Best American Short Stories, 1951, Martha Foley describes the reaction to this story in a classroom of Columbia University: “The younger generation in the room considered it a heartbreakingly beautiful story of two young people, lost like themselves, in a world they never made.” Susan and Peter, much like the eponymous characters Franny and Zooey in J. D. Salinger’s novel, were more familiar to the youth of the 1950’s than were, perhaps, the television role models promising the happy days of ideal American families such as the Nelsons. Ozzie did not divorce Harriet, nor did Harriet become an alcoholic. How could David and Ricky represent the generation growing up in the aftermath of World War II? Susan and Peter, on the other hand, respond to the sensitivity in each other and passively resign themselves to the insensitivity and sordidness of the world around them.
Hortense Calisher chose to open the 1975 edition of her collected stories with “In Greenwich There Are Many Gravelled Walks,” so that the book would follow what she explains in its introduction as the “natural rhythms” in her work. One of these, she explains further, is going “from an untrustworthy reality to a joyously recognizable fantasy.” Her later works include, in fact, two novels that can loosely be described as science fiction in that search for the fantasy. This story, as part of her first published collection, best represents the “untrustworthy reality” of which she speaks.
What is “untrustworthy” in the world of Peter and Susan is not the sordid surface of broken homes and children assuming responsibilities while parents pursue pleasure or escape. Rather, it is the greater society, which offers an American Dream and ignores individual nightmares. Peter cannot communicate with his cousins, whose “undamaged eyes were still starry with expectancy”; Susan admires even the neurotic Vince, who can care enough to commit suicide. In finding each other, each has finally discovered the company that misery loves. It took Calisher another twenty years to discover the “joyously recognizable fantasy” that perhaps first emerges in the two works that she published in the mid-1960’s: Journal from Ellipsis (1965) and The Railway Police and The Last Trolley Ride (1966).