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 get home by swimming through all the pools in the neighborhood (which he names "The Lucinda River" in honor of his wife), and starts off enthusiastic and full of youthful energy. In the early stops on his journey, he is enthusiastically greeted by friends, who welcome 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, things gradually take on a darker and ultimately surreal tone. Despite the ever-present afternoon light, it becomes unclear how much time has passed. At the beginning of the story it was clearly midsummer, but eventually all natural signs point to the season being autumn. Old acquaintances encountered by Neddy mention misfortune and money troubles which he does not remember hearing about, and 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, it is probably Cheever's most famous and frequently anthologized story. At one point, Cheever wanted to parallel the tale of Narcissus, a character in Greek mythology who died while staring at his own reflection in a pool of water, a theme which Cheever later dismissed as too restrictive. 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.