Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Each sketch in “Metamorphoses” demonstrates Cheever’s surety of style and tone. His description of Larry Actaeon, after seeing the nude Mrs. Vuiton, emphasizes Actaeon’s commonplaceness and foreshadows his impending change of appearance: “He spent the last of the afternoon at his window, joining that vast population of the blunderers, the bored—the empty-handed barber, the clerk in the antique store nobody ever comes into, the idle insurance salesperson, the failing haberdasher—all of those thousands who stand at the windows of the city and watch the afternoon go down.” An additional irony is that as the day declines, so does Actaeon.

Cheever deftly varies the tone from Actaeon’s absurd story, to Betman’s tragic one, to the more comic yet still pathetic account of Mrs. Peranger and her daughter, to the slapstick silliness of Bradish’s obsession. Realizing an abrupt shift is necessary after Victoria’s death, Cheever opens the third sketch with “To watch Mrs. Peranger enter the club was a little like choosing up sides for a sand-lot ball game; it was exciting.” Cheever’s approach to fiction, a skillful melding of literary tradition, insight into contemporary life, and distinctive style, is also exciting.


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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