The last two years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month… you can see the list for 2014 and 2015 in the comments for this page. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.
Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.
Today’s story, for day twenty three – Expelled, by John Cheever
Read it online here:
John Cheever is, of course, one of the Titans of short story writing and chronicler of the American Condition. He’s often called “the Chekhov of the suburbs.” His eponymous collection of short stories won the Pulitzer Prize.
I know him best for his most-anthologized story The Swimmer. I read it in college in my short story class (we read a hundred stories in a semester) and it affected me enough to remember sitting in my dorm room reading it after all these years.
Today’s story is Cheever’s first published story, Expelled. It’s the thinly-disguised tale of his own experiences being shitcanned from a prestigious prep school – The Thayer Academy. In real life he left, was invited back on probation after winning a short story contest, then flunked out again.
Expelled reminds me of other works that mark a young (usually idealistic) person’s realization that the world isn’t going to be able to stand up to their expectations – and that will make for a difficult life. The Catcher in the Rye is probably the most iconic tale of the type. My favorite is A&P, by John Updike – a seductively simple yet subtly horrific story.
Today’s story has an interesting structure – a series of vignettes each featuring a character involved in the expulsion. That helps keep the thing from becoming too self-indulgent, and makes the school and its denizens more likable and less blameful. It’s a story written by a young person – not quite fully developed – but you can read the potential here.
And now it is August. The orchards are stinking ripe. The tea-colored brooks run beneath the rocks. There is sediment on the stone and no wind in the willows. Everyone is preparing to go back to school. I have no school to go back to.
I am not sorry. I am not at all glad.
It is strange to be so very young and to have no place to report to at nine o’clock. That is what education has always been. It has been laced curtseys and perfumed punctualities.
But now it is nothing. It is symmetric with my life. I am lost in it. That is why I am not standing in a place where I can talk