The Brigadier and the Golf Widow Summary

John Cheever


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Charlie Pastern lives in a suburb of New York City and spends much of his time at the country club playing golf. He earns the nickname “brigadier” by carrying on in the locker room about America’s enemies, insisting that the only way to deal with them is to drop nuclear bombs on them. Because he spends so little time at home, his wife is the “golf widow” in the title of the story. The marked difference in their personalities is initially dramatized by their attitudes toward the bomb shelter that Charlie Pastern has had constructed under their yard. Charlie is warlike and expects Armageddon, while his wife does her best to maintain appearances, decorating the ugly lump that the bomb shelter makes in the yard with a birdbath and plaster figures. She is also subtly irritable, pointing out the flaws in her neighbors’ possessions to make up for the lack of fulfillment that she feels as a wife and mother—a failure that she does not consider her own fault. While her husband, Charlie, is plump and aggressive, she is gaunt and oblique.

Mrs. Pastern, like her neighbors, is active in collecting donations for medical research. Each of these suburban housewives concentrates on a given illness. Mrs. Pastern’s charity is hepatitis. One autumn day, she goes around the neighborhood collecting for her charity. She covers all of her route except for two families. One of them is the Flannagan family, and while his wife is preparing dinner, Charlie Pastern, to escape the boredom of his house and the lingering boredom of his day in general, agrees to collect the remaining donations.

The fact that he does not know the Flannagans does not stop him from accepting Mrs. Flannagan’s invitation for a drink in her house. Explaining that her husband has been away on business for six weeks, she proceeds to seduce Charlie, which...

(The entire section is 751 words.)