A major thesis is that in Cheever's novels, and his short stories also, there are hidden pressures, unease, and spiritual emptiness lying behind a seemingly normal facade of modern suburban life. (The one exception to this among his novels would be Falconer, with its distinctive prison setting.) Cheever shares this concern with many other twentieth-century writers, but although this outlook is somewhat bleak, Cheever's view is tempered with a sense of the comic and the extraordinary.
The theme takes an extreme form in Bullet Park with the psychopathic figure of Hammer, who determines to symbolically punish middle-class, suburban mediocrity with a human sacrifice. However, much of the focus is on the more ordinary figure of Nailles. The whimsical connection between the two men on account of their names takes on sinister proportions when Hammer decides to use Nailles's son Tony as his sacrifice, but initially it appears frequently comic.
Nailles, the somewhat dubious hero of the work, initially appears quite ordinary, living a narrowly respectable life in which he simply shuts out the more unpleasant aspects of the world:
Nailles thought of pain and suffering as a principality lying somewhere beyond the legitimate borders of western Europe.
However, even before he is forced into a terrifying confrontation with Hammer, there are signs that Nailles is not as content as he seems. He starts taking drugs, and worries about his apathetic son, Tony. Behind the veneer of respectable, secure modern suburban life, then, there lurk perplexities, dark emotions, and secret longings to escape.