Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Excerpt: 'The Journals of John Cheever'

The stubborn dreariness of this rainy Sunday. Down at the station there are only a few travellers for the southbound local. A cook with a paper bag full of leftovers and a hand-me-down coat is going to Yonkers to visit her relations. A maiden aunt out for Sunday lunch is returning. The last is a figure of mystery, a man in a worn polo coat beneath which show the striped pants and boiled shirt of a tuxedo. These are the only passengers and they seem to have come here unwilling to catch a train and make a hopeless journey. In the waiting room and the cabstand, both of them unattended, a telephone rings and rings and rings. Fishnets for shad and bass are strung out into the water, and the rain, like a much finer net, encircles the county with a stir of reassuring and dreary noise. Racks of string hang above the railroad track like the old-fashioned fly nets worn by livery horses. It is a stubborn and an infinite dreariness, rooted in the stupor, the discomfort, or the downright misery of a heavy churchgoer's lunch. The ballgame has been rained out but not the "Emperor" Concerto or the "Jupiter" Symphony. More than half the world is in an unrefreshing sleep.

But between the waiting room and the freight house there is a view of water and mountains. The eye goes up for miles and miles, for while the little rain makes the shore dim, nothing is obscured. Here there is more power and space than you had expected. The smudge from a distant tugboat, discouraged and scattered by the little rain, drifts toward the water. There is a mountain as round as a plump knee and a mountain cut like a cock's crest and even a faint smell of the wilderness—dead bloodworms and wet corduroy—for three fishermen are strung along the narrow bank between the railroad tracks and the water. Oh it is so dreary that one's teeth seem literally to ache. The smell of boiled beef lingers in the upstairs hall.


Is there anything more wonderful than the Monday morning train: the 8:22? The weekend—say a long summer weekend like the Fourth—has left you rested. There have been picnics, fireworks, excursions to the beach—all the pleasant things we do together. On Sunday we had cocktails late and a pickup supper in the garden. We see the darkness end the weekend without any regret—it has all been so pleasant. In the garden we can hear, from the west, the noise of traffic on the parkway rise to a high pitch that it will hold until nearly midnight, as other families drive back to the city from the mountains or the shore; and the sleeping children, the clothing hung in the backseat, the infinity of headlights—the sense we take from these overcrowded Sunday roads of a gigantic evacuation, a gigantic pilgrimage—is all a part of this hour. You water the grass, tell the children a story, take a bath, and get into bed. The morning is brilliant and fresh. Your wife drives you to the train in the convertible. The children and the dog come along. From the minute you wake up you seem to be on the verge of an irrepressible joy. The drive down Alewives Lane to the station seems triumphal, and when you see the station below you and the trees and the few people who have already gathered there, waiting in the morning sun, and when you kiss your wife and your children goodbye and give the dog's ears a scratch and say good morning all around the platform and unfold the Tribune and hear the train, the 8:22, coming down the tracks, it seems to me a wonderful thing.

Excerpted from The Journals of John Cheever by John Cheever edited by Robert Gottlieb Copyright © 2008 by John Cheever. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit

John Cheever