Places Discussed

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Bullet Park

Bullet Park. Suburban area of stately homes, manicured lawns interrupted by swimming pools, and the buzz of chain saws and lawn tractors. At the heart of the town is the train station where the commuter railroad connects residents to New York City, the great magnet of purpose, reputation, and money. At 7:46 a.m. every weekday morning, the commuters, in their business uniforms and with their folded newspapers, obeying the code of privacy that allows them only to nod to each other, rush into the city. Aboard their trains, they zoom past local stops and past the bedroom windows of Harlem into Manhattan’s Grand Central Station, from which they run to their various subways and taxis. In the evening, the reverse migration is more relaxed. The train’s bar car is open, and more cocktails await them at home in the company of wife, children, and dog. On weekends, cocktail parties, with all kinds of dalliances within them, dot Bullet Park’s landscape. Local police keep an eye out for those who drink too much and obligingly guide them home.

So goes John Cheever’s satirical portrait of Bullet Park—overprivileged, overindulgent, and empty of significant feeling, which at first the author seems to confirm. At the train station one morning, Mr. Shinglehouse is sucked up by the Chicago Express barreling through—literally lifted out of his loafers. However, no one on the platform knows him well enough to allow the strange event to alter his day. Mr. Shinglehouse disappears with the same anonymity with which he lived.

Within the milieu of Bullet Park, advertising executive Eliot Nailles is generally happy and content, loving his wife, his son, his home, and his job. He has his discontents. He drinks too much, and is worried about his son’s adjustment to school and career. But his commitments make him whole. The first half of the novel generally confirms the satirical expectations readers have of Bullet Park. However, those expectations are a strategic misdirection to contrast with the strange madness of Paul Hammer.

Hammer’s world

Hammer’s world. In contrast to Nailles’s powerful sense of identity with a place, the world of the crazed killer Paul Hammer is a phantasmagoria of images taken from around the globe: famous sights of London, Rome, and Paris, mixed with a compulsive detailing of all the hotel rooms in which he has stayed. He travels everywhere and belongs nowhere, obsessively seeking the “yellow rooms” that he thinks will satisfy him. He is psychotic, but it is a moral, rather than a clinical psychosis, for he is clear-headed enough to pursue his murderous purposes. He selects Eliot Nailles, whom he has never met, as his victim (he later shifts his focus to Eliot’s son, Tony) because his mother, an ideologue who hates America, tells him he should pick out a place like Bullet Park, disguise himself as an ordinary resident, find a representative of American capitalism, and nail him to the door of the church. Hammer is so spiritually empty that this threadbare and merciless comment sponsors the only direction in his life.


Church. Bullet Park Episcopal church in which Hammer intends to kill Tony Nailles on the altar. It is the same church in which Tony was christened and in which the Nailles family worships each Sunday, an image of Eliot Nailles’s thoroughly conventional view of life. In a moment of heroism, Eliot attacks the church door with a chain saw and rescues his son.


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Coale, Samuel. “The Resurrection of Bullet Park: John Cheever’s Curative Spell.” In The...

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Critical Response to John Cheever, edited by Francis J. Bosha. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994. Finds that Bullet Park arose from creative tensions within the writer himself, which find expression in his journals.

Donaldson, Scott. John Cheever. New York: Random House, 1988. A standard biography with a critical discussion of all Cheever’s work.

Gardner, John. “Witchcraft in Bullet Park.” In Critical Essays on John Cheever, edited by Robert G. Collins. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1982. Asserts Bullet Park to be a first-rate novel and takes early reviewers to task for misunderstanding it.

Hunt, George. John Cheever: The Hobgoblin Company of Love. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1983. Contains a chapter on Bullet Park that relates it to the time in which it was written and offers a strong defense of its value.

Waldeland, Lynne. John Cheever. Boston: Twayne, 1979. Defends the style and plotting of Bullet Park as appropriate to its exploration of good and evil.


Critical Essays