Oh What a Paradise It Seems by John Cheever

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Oh What a Paradise It Seems Summary

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

This novel comprises two interconnected narratives that center on saving a pond in a small suburban town, Janice. The mayor of Janice, who has connections with some form of organized crime, allows Beasley’s Pond to become a dump for the ostensible purpose of filling it to provide the site for a war memorial. As Cheever moves from one plot to the other, regaining the purity of the pond becomes a personal and moral issue for three of the main characters.

Lemuel Sears is somewhat fearful of growing old. Having left the city to skate at Beasley’s Pond one fine winter day, he recaptures the physical and spiritual exhilaration that he experienced in his youth. Thus, when he returns a few weeks later and finds the pond being used as a dump, he is more than intellectually appalled at the pollution of the pond: “He thought his heart would break.” He first hires a lawyer and then an environmentalist, Horace Chisholm, in an effort to stop the dumping. Ultimately, he fails where another character, Betsy Logan, succeeds, but when the dumping ceases, he establishes a foundation that uses the latest technology to undo the pollution.

Soon after his afternoon of skating, Sears meets Renee Herndon and begins an affair with her, their frequent lovemaking bringing him another pleasure that he feared he might lose as a result of growing old. When she leaves him unexpectedly and without explanation, he seeks comfort in a brief homosexual encounter and a trout-fishing expedition, neither of which is successful. Yet, because for Sears there is a “sameness in the search for love and the search for potable water,” he turns his attention to saving the pond, which takes the place of loving Renee.

In the second narrative, Betsy Logan, a resident of Janice, is also drawn into the fight to save the pond. Her neighbor, Sammy Salazzo, collects fees for dumping in the pond. In a bizarre series of events—the shooting of the Salazzos’s dog, a verbal confrontation about wind chimes with Maria Salazzo, and a physical...

(The entire section is 529 words.)