It will be familiar to his readers. So are his characters, stubbing their toes on immaterial manifestations, the startled victims of a world they never made but inherited along with comfortable assurances of affluence and the moral fixity of God and family values. Until sooner or later there's the misgiving that something has been lost. Or someone. Like Eliot Nailes' son Tony who takes to bed with a depression no doctor can cure — only a swami of dubious origins on the wrong side of town.
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When in John Cheever turned from the lovable Wapshots to the weird creatures who inhabit Bullet Park, most reviewers attacked or dismissed him. They were, it seems to me, dead wrong. The Wapshot books, though well made, were minor. One reason the book has been mis understood is that it lacks simple message. Talking of the oldest and darkest evil, Cheever speaks softly, gently, as if casually. Cheever's subject is chance—but more than that.
Chance is a vehicle that carries the book into darker country. Art, like life, may start with chance, but chance shrouds something darker. The stranger has nothing to do with the accident; he's buried, at the time, in his news paper. But the skin crawls. We learn later that by a series of accidents the stranger has become, unbe knownst to himself, a center of de monic malevolence.
We've been told repeatedly that the universe is gloomy and frighten ing, random. Brute existence precedes essence and also sometimes follows it, as it does in Nailles's good Chris tian mother, reduced by senility to a human doll in a nursing home.
Ah, yes, ah, woe, we are tugged by cos mic strings, dolls all! Or are we? Cheever reconsiders the idea of chance, remembering psychic and psychological phenomena, the claims of good and bad witches.
What emerges is a world where hope does exist magic is real and can cure or kill , a world in a way even grimmer than Beckett's because here love and sacrifice are realities, like hope, but realities in flux, perpetually threat ened, perishing.
Cheever, in other words, sees the mind in its totality—sees not only the fashionable existen tial darkness but the light older than consciousness, which gives nothing ness definition. Hammer decides to murder Nailles —at first Eliot, later his son, Tony. But how do you render a thing so strange? Instead of explaining, he inserts Hammer's journal.
With a mad man's objectivity, Hammer sketches the story of his life. The motive for the projected murder is coincidence—a correspondence of names, two pieces of string. We learn that Paul Ham.. But the rendered proof of his demonic nature is his voice, a quiet stovelid on terror and rage. More here than in his earlier writings, Cheever depends on poetic which is to say, magical devices—rhythm, imagistic repetition, echo.
Instead of conventional plot, an ac cretion of accidents. Far below con sciousness, the best people in Bullet Park are mirror images of the worst: they live by magic, correspondence. The mecha nistic universe writ small. An accidental meeting with a man in a bar and a chance echo when Nailles returns home makes Nailles distrust his faithful wife—faithful be cause, by accident, her would be seducers were confounded by, respectively, a fire, a cold, an attack of indigestion.
In short, Nailles, a tragicomic fool, is simply lucky. Ham mer, by accidents of childhood and bastardy, is cut off from Nature and himself. Nailles's blessing is that he is married to a good woman and has son, whereas Hammer is mar ried to a bitch and is child less.
Nailles's luck means that he's faintly in touch with the higher magic of the universe—the magic of love, creative force—whereas Hammer is in touch only with lower magic, correspondence. Magical coincidence, echo, repetition. When images recur or correspondences appear, they are causes, benevolent or harmful. When Rutuola, the gentle swami, makes magic, the result is rit ual.
Both are attempts to draw in the power of the universe. Both work, sometimes. Both are crazy. Benevolent witchcraft, ritual, assumes that the universe con tains some good and that men in groups can reach harmony with it. Rain or shine, Nailles drives with his windshield wip er on, because that's his silly congregation's sign of faith in the resurrection. Malevolent witchcraft, on the other hand, assumes cosmic forces attend ant to the will of the witch. Neither side wins decisively.
Selfless men contain selfish ness, and even Hammer has impulses toward love. The mainly benevolent have their marginal advantage because in times of crisis they tend to work together. Out of lonely arrogance Hammer spills his plan to the swami, and from love the swami warns Nailles. Good and evil are real, but are effects of mindless chance — or heartless grace. The demonology of Calvin, or Cotton Mather.
Disturbing or not, the book towers high above the many recent novels that wail and feed on Sartre. A religious book, affirmation out of ashes. The image repetitions, the stark and sub tle correspondences that cre ate the book's ambiguous meaning, its uneasy courage and compassion, sink in and in, like a curative spell. Archives Witchcraft In Bullet Park.
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Witchcraft In Bullet Park
Bullet Park is a novel by American Novelist John Cheever about an earnest yet pensive father Eliot Nailles and his troubled son Tony, and their predestined fate with a psychotic man Hammer, who moves to Bullet Park to sacrifice one of them. The book deals with the failure of the American dream, spoken in a fable-like tone, in similar vein with Richard Yates' Revolutionary Road and The Great Gatsby. In , the novel was adapted into a French-language film, Parc. In , Audible.
When in John Cheever turned from the lovable Wapshots to the weird creatures who inhabit Bullet Park, most reviewers attacked or dismissed him. They were, it seems to me, dead wrong. The Wapshot books, though well made, were minor. One reason the book has been mis understood is that it lacks simple message.
The New Republic
To improve your visit to our site, take a minute and upgrade your browser. There are people who believe that when writers pass middle age their imaginative power—like their sexual energy—tends to diminish. If they are good writers, the argument runs, they have learned their craft by this time, and so their later books have a carefully disciplined, if comparatively lifeless, quality. In his short stories over the past several years, and in his new novel, John Cheever reverses this formula. In his late fifties, he appears to be almost helplessly carried away by the flood tides of his imagination. His ear for speech, his eye for significant small actions, his polish, his boldness of invention illuminate almost every page of his work—but these gifts are often lavished on stories which seem, as a whole, unfinished, inchoate, even unserious.