A Classic Fiction Story of the Week: John Cheever

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“The Death of Justina” is John Cheever at his best. You get the terror of the suburbs, the ridiculousness of the suburbs, and a strong ironic humor that only he could bring. Esquire originally published the story in November 1960, and it was included in Cheever’s Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of stories. John Cheever’s Stories, which went well with its National Book Award for The Chronicles of Wapshot. Cheever, hailed as one of the best American screenwriters of all time, died in 1982 at the age of 70. Check out a clip from “The Death of Justina” here, then head to the Esquire Fiction Festival for the rest.

“So help me God, it becomes more and more grotesque, it corresponds less and less to what I remember and what I expect, as if the force of life was centrifugal and moved further and further apart of her purest memories and ambitions; and I can hardly remember the old house where I grew up, where in the middle of winter Parma violets were blooming in a cold frame near the door from the kitchen and down the long corridor, in front of the seven views of Rome – two steps and three steps – one entered the library, where all the books were in order, the lamps were bright, where there was a fire and a dozen bottles of bourbon, locked in a cabinet with a tortoiseshell plating of which my father wore the silver key on his watch chain. I’ll give you an example and if you don’t believe me, honestly examine your own past and see if you can’t find a comparable experience. On Saturday the doctor gave me said quit smoking and drinking and i did. I will not go into the common withdrawal symptoms, but I would like to point out that, standing at my window at night, watching the brilliant afterglow and the spread of darkness, I felt, by the absence of these humble stimulants , the strength of some primitive memory in which the coming of the night with its stars and its moon was apocalyptic … “

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