The Country Husband Style and Technique

John Cheever

Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Consistent with the story’s theme that even the mundane world contains much that is worthy of notice, Cheever’s writing is rich in detail; for example, in his careful description of the Weeds’ preparation for their yearly Christmas photograph. Moreover, the pattern of classical allusions that recur in the story emphasizes the reality of history, and in fact the lingering presence of the past in the modern world.

The classical allusions are diverse. The Weeds’ living room is said to be “divided like Gaul into three parts.” A neighbor says of his wife, “She makes me feel like Hannibal crossing the Alps.” Francis notes on Fifth Avenue the statue of Atlas bearing the globe on his shoulders, and his love for Anne, it is suggested, may result from some “capriciousness of Venus and Eros.” The beautiful woman glimpsed on the train becomes “Venus combing and combing her hair.” The classical allusions are capped by the fact that the neighbors’ retriever—“black as coal, with a long, alert, intelligent, rakehell face”—is called Jupiter. Although these allusions are used with an ironic tone, their cumulative pattern is enough to suggest that the distant classical world can still provide an enriching presence in the modern world. To see one’s neighbors, their living rooms and their pets, as analogues to the heroes and gods of classical antiquity endows them all with a certain dignity, even if tempered by gentle irony. At the end of the story, as Francis works happily in the basement, Jupiter comes prancing through the garden, and the evening suddenly seems “a night where kings in golden suits ride elephants over the mountains.” Romance and beauty can be found in the modern world, even in Shady Hill.