The Swimmer (short story)
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"The Swimmer", a short story by American author John Cheever, was originally published in The New Yorker on July 18, 1964, and then in the 1964 short story collection The Brigadier and the Golf Widow. It was later collected in The Stories of John Cheever.
The story begins with Neddy Merrill lounging at a friend's pool on a warm midsummer day. On a whim, Neddy decides to return home by swimming through all the pools in the neighborhood, which he names "the Lucinda River" to honor his wife. He begins the journey enthusiastic and full of youthful energy and, in the early stops on his journey, his friends enthusiastically greet him with drinks; it is readily apparent that he is well-regarded, and has an upper or upper-middle-class social standing.
As his journey progresses, the story's tone gradually becomes darker and more surreal. Despite the ever-present afternoon light, it becomes unclear how much time has passed: at the beginning of the story it is clearly midsummer, but eventually all natural signs point to the season being autumn. Some old acquaintances Neddy encounters mention his financial problems, although he does not remember having such misfortunes. He is patently unwelcome at several houses belonging to owners of a lower social class. His earlier, youthful energy gradually declines, and it becomes increasingly painful and difficult for him to swim on. Finally, he staggers back home only to find his house decrepit, empty, and abandoned.
Originally conceived as a novel and pared down from over 150 pages of notes, some scholars believe it is Cheever's most famous and frequently anthologized story. As published, the story is highly praised for its blend of realism and surrealism, the thematic exploration of suburban America, especially the relationship between wealth and happiness, as well as his use of myth and symbolism.
Differences between the film plot and original story
Although the story and the film share many commonalities, the differences lie in making a short story long enough to suit a feature-length film which does not change the basic elements of the story's plot.
The first change is that Neddy is mostly referred to as Ned, with just a few pleasantly surprised neighbours briefly using Neddy. Shirley Adams, Neddy's previous mistress, also undergoes a name change. She is no longer simply described as being beautiful but is changed into an actress named Shirley Abbott. Shirley is given an opportunity to share her experience with being Ned's mistress, while the story version of Shirley speaks only briefly before Neddy swims in her pool. Several minor characters in the film are completely absent in the short story: Julie, the Merrill daughters' old babysitter; Kevin, a boy who Ned helps conquer his fears of swimming; and Joan, an eager young woman whose friends dissuade her from joining Ned on his adventure.
The film also hints at Ned's dark past much earlier in the narrative than the story by allowing the Westerhazys to appear concerned as Ned leaves their pool. In contrast, Neddy is well into his adventure before the text hints at his forgotten past.
Alcohol appears repeatedly in both the book and the film as well as Ned's inability to remember painful events from the past. The final scene in both the story and the film are the same: Ned returns to his deserted home and is unable to enter.
- Cheever, John (1964). The Swimmer. The New Yorker.
- Kuiper, Kathleen (2011). "The Swimmer: story by Cheever". Encyclopaedia Britannica.
- Wilson, Kathleen (1997). Short Stories for Students. Gale. pp. 278–94.