One great short story to read today: John Cheever’s “The Enormous Radio”

Emily Temple

May 15, 2024, 10:30am

According to the powers that be (er, apparently according to Dan Wickett of the Emerging Writers Network), May is Short Story Month. To celebrate, for the second year in a row, the Literary Hub staff will be recommending a single short story, free* to read online, every (work) day of the month. Why not read along with us? Today, we recommend:

“The Enormous Radio” by John Cheever

Cheever is famous for his slanted literature of suburbia and the people who grill there, less gimlet-eyed than gimlet-distorted; but his best stories are less documentarian and more an exercise in chipping off varnish, almost casually, almost like you’re sitting there minding your own business. “The Enormous Radio” uses an ever-so delicate form of fabulism—a radio that pipes in the sounds of the surrounding apartments—to dramatize the terrible journey from blissful innocence to self-knowledge, the blow only softened (if it is, indeed softened) by the fact that everyone else is in the same boat as you. Pair it with “The Swimmer” for the full Cheever experience.

The story begins:

Jim and Irene Westcott were the kind of people who seem to strike that satisfactory average of income, endeavor, and respectability that is reached by the statistical reports in college alumni bulletins. They were the parents of two young children, they had been married nine years, they lived on the twelfth floor of an apartment house near Sutton Place, they went to the theater on an average of 10.3 times a year, and they hoped someday to live in Westchester. Irene Westcott was pleasant, rather plain girl with soft brown hair, and a wide, fine forehead upon which nothing at all had been written, and in the cold weather she wore a coat of fitch skins dyed to resemble mink. You could not say that Jim Westcott looked younger than he was, but you could at least say of him that he seemed to feel younger. He wore his graying hair cut very short, he dressed in the kind of clothes his class had worn at Andover, and his manner was earnest, vehement, and intentionally naïve. The Westcotts differed from their friends, their classmates, and their neighbors only in an interest they shared in serious music. They went to a great many concerts—although they seldom mentioned this to anyone—and they spent a good deal of time listening to music on the radio.

Read it here.

*If you hit a paywall, we recommend trying with a different/private/incognito browser (but listen, you didn’t hear it from us).

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