The theme of “Goodbye, My Brother,” a story based on Cheever’s relationship with his older brother, Fred, is one that preoccupied Cheever over the course of his entire career, from the early story “The Brothers” (1937) to the late novel Falconer. The story takes place on Laud’s Head, on the New England coast, where the geographically distant but “close in spirit” Pommeroy clan (a widowed mother, one recently divorced daughter, and three brothers with wives and children) gathers at the family’s summer house, built in the 1920’s. The unnamed narrator, one of the brothers, is thirty-eight, a schoolteacher resigned to a future without much promise who, like the rest of his family (other than the youngest brother), believes that while the Pommeroys may not be distinguished, they are unique.
The late arrival of Lawrence, the youngest child and a lawyer, is the return of the prodigal son, only in reverse. Known variously as Tifty (from the sound his slippers made when he was a child), Croaker, and Little Jesus, he has no enthusiasm—indeed, much contempt—for the activities in which the rest of the family take so much pleasure: drinking, talking, dancing, playing games, and above all, swimming, which during Lawrence’s visit they seem to do more as a way to cleanse themselves of his doleful presence than as a form of physical exercise.
“He could make a grievance out of everything,” the narrator complains about a...
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