The story under discussion vividly represents Cheever's typical features as a sharp observer of life, a subtle psychologist with a great gift of penetrating into the minds of his characters at crucial moments of their lives, a skilful writer. It represents the narrator's recollection of an episode of his teenage life which reflects the complexity of `fathers-sons' relations.
Cheever writes in his own brief seemingly casual manner, but the verbal plane is only the top of the iceberg. The story of a trivial episode of a boy's meeting with his father turns into an indictment of the whole class with its hypocrisy and narrow-mindedness.
The story describes a crucial moment in the main character's life, though on the surface nothing extraordinary happens. The moment is crucial because the character is a teenager who is passing this serious period of his life which, to a great extent, determines everybody's adult life. The event described is very important for the boy. He meets his father whom he hasn't seen for 3 years and he looks forward to this meeting as a beginning of his wonderful reunion with his father. The meeting however turns out to be a complete disappointment. So the title `Reunion' acquires an ironic implication because in fact it is not a story of reunion but a story of separation. The irony is enhanced by framing - the story opens and ends with the same words `the last time I saw my father'.
Thus the author introduces the theme of the story - a teenager's frustration and crash of his hopes. But it is not only the psychological conflict of the boy's cheated expectations that is in the focus of the writer's attention but also the external conflict between material wealth and spiritual degradation.
The story is the first person narration. It is obvious that the narrator recollects the event when he is already a mature man. At first it may seem that the man is not inclined to tell the reader much about his life and feeling, but a skilful reader will always discern deeper implications behind words. The boy is a neglected child whose parents are divorced and it seems he does not even have a permanent place of living (home); he is constantly travelling from his mother to his grandmother and back. The boy hasn't seen his father for 3 years which implies that his father neglects him and his mother doesn't encourage their meetings.
It was apparently the boy's personal decision to write to his father and appoint the meeting. However the answer came not directly from his father but from his secretary who wrote that he would come at noon. The father was punctual (as a reliable businessman) and came at 12 o'clock sharp. When Charlie saw him he experienced contradictory feelings - the father was a stranger to him but at the same time `his flesh and blood, his future and his doom'. This periphrasis backed by parallelism reveals the boy's psychological state at the moment - he was excited, elated, full of hope and expectation. The hackneyed oxymoron `terribly happy' adds to the description.
The reader sees the man through the son's perception and he cannot but see that the boy is proud of his father (`a big good-looking man'), he longs to have a father, a real man by his side. This idea is emphasized by parallelism in the last three sentences of the first paragraph (I hoped, I wished, I wanted). His father `smelled' of what the son lacked in his teenager life with two females, mother and grandmother.
The central part of the story describes the father and the son's visiting four restaurants. Instead of taking the son to his club and having a quiet talk with him the father brought him to a restaurant in a side street, very small and common (there was only one old waiter, the bartender was quarrelling with a delivery boy). But they did not stay there long as the father was rude and boisterous which is contrasted to the waiter's polite and quiet manner. The father's aggressive behaviour made the waiter ask the man to leave the place. So father and son went from restaurant to restaurant and wherever they came the man was rude. He was getting drunk which increased his aggressiveness. He did not seem to notice his son. The author doesn't describe Charlie's feeling and his reaction to the father's intoxicated behaviour but it is evident that the boy couldn't have liked it.
He started to feel ashamed and disappointed. The father did not seem to be interested in the son's life and studies. Only once he cross-questioned Charlie about the baseball season, while the boy longed to be asked about his ambitions and aspirations. The reader feels that the boy gradually realizes what his father is like and in frustration he says he has to go and get his train. This makes the father stop and think how he could please his son before the departure. He was obviously a rich man but to had come to the meeting without a present and now he wanted to compensate for it but could think of nothing better than buying a newspaper for the son. The scene at the news stand was the last straw - the father was humiliating the news stand clerk speaking in his usual manner mixing formal and rude vocabulary. The boy couldn't stand it any longer, he was utterly disappointed and he knew that he `would have to plan his future without his father'. He lifted abruptly without waiting for his father to say a proper goodbye to him.
The fact that Charlie did not try to contact his father later speaks for itself. He went through a traumatic experience but he got over it. Thus the conflict lies not only on the psychological plane but on the social plane either. The author reveals the realities of the disintegration of the manners and morals of society, where bright surfaces conceal tensions, disorders, anxieties and frustrations of life.
They were driving up to fish the White Creek for German Browns, and the false dawn was purpling the Wisconsin countryside when they spotted the huge humpbacked object in the middle of the sand road, and Jimmy coasted the station wagon to a stop.
“Pa,” he said. “Turtle. Lousy snapper.”
Old Tony sat up.
“Is it dead?”
“Not yet,” Jimmy said. “Not yet, he isn’t.” He shifted into neutral and pulled the hand brake. The snapper lay large and dark green in the headlight beams, and they got out and went around to look at it closely. The turtle moved a little and left razor-like claw marks in the wet sand, and it waited.
“Probably heading for the creek,” Jimmy said. “They kill trout like crazy.”
They stood staring down.
“I’d run the wagon over him,” Jimmy said, “only he’s too big.”
He looked around and walked to the ditchway and came back with a long finger-thick pine branch. He jabbed it into the turtle’s face, and the snakehead lashed out and struck like spring steel; the branch snapped like a stick of macaroni, and it all happened fast as a match flare.
“Looka that!” Tony whistled.
“You bet, Pa. I bet he goes sixty pounds. Seventy, maybe.”
The turtle was darting its head around now in long, stretching movements. “I think he got some branch stuck in his craw,” Jimmy said. He got out a cigarette and lighted it and flipped the match at the rock-green shell.
“I wish now I’d brought the twenty-two,” he said. “The pistol.”
“You going to kill him?”
“Why not?” Jimmy asked. “They kill trout, don’t they?”
They stood there smoking and not talking and looking down at the unmoving shell.
“I could use the lug wrench on him,” Jimmy said. “Only I don’t think it’s long enough. I don’t want my hands near him.”
Tony didn’t say anything.
“You watch him,” Jimmy said. “I’ll go find something in the wagon.”
Slowly Tony squatted down onto his haunches and smoked and stared at the turtle. Poor Old One, he thought. You have the misfortune to be caught in the middle of a sand road, and you are very vulnerable on the sand roads. Now you are going to get the holy life beaten out of you.
The turtle stopped its stretching movements and was still. Tony looked at the full webbed feet and the nail claws, and he knew the truth.
“It would be different in the water, turtle,” he said. “In the water you could cut down anybody.”
He thought about this snapper in the water and how it would move like a torpedo and bring down trout, and nobody would monkey with it in the water – and here it was in the middle of a sand road, vulnerable as a baby and waiting to get its brains beaten out.
He finished his cigarette and field-stripped it, got to his feet, walked to the wagon, and reached into the glove compartment for the thermos of coffee. What was he getting all worked up about a turtle for? He was an old man, and he was acting like a kid. They were going up to the White for German Browns, and he was getting worked up about a God-forsaken turtle in the middle of a God-forsaken sand road. God-forsaken. He walked back to the turtle, hunched down, sipped at the strong black coffee, and watched the old snapper watching him.
Jimmy came up to him holding the bumper jack.
“I want to play it safe,” he said. “I don’t think the lug wrench is long enough.” He squatted beside Tony. “What do you think?”
“He waits,” Tony said. “What difference what I think?”
Jimmy squinted at him.
“I can tell something’s eating you. What are you thinking, Pa?”
“I think it is not a brave thing.”
“This turtle—he does not have chance.”
Jimmy lit a cigarette and hefted the bumper jack. The turtle moved ever so slightly.
“You talk like an old woman, an old tired woman.”
“I can understand this turtle’s position.”
“He doesn’t have chance?”
“And that bothers you?”
Tony looked into Jimmy’s face.
“That is right,” he said. “That bothers me.”
“Well, of all the dumb, stupid things,” Jimmy said. “”What do you want me to do? Get down on all fours and fight with him?”
“No,” Tony said. “Not on all fours.” He looked at Jimmy. “In the water. Fight this turtle in the water. That would be a brave thing, my son.”
Jimmy put down the bumper jack and reached for the thermos jug and didn’t say anything. He drank his coffee and smoked his cigarette, and he stared at the turtle and didn’t say anything.
“You’re crazy,” he said finally.
“It is a thought, my son. A thought. This helpless plodding old one like a little baby in this sand road, eh? But in the water, his home… Tony snapped his fingers with the suddenness of a switchblade. “In the water he could cut down anyone, anything…any man. Fight him in the water, Jimmy. Use your bumper jack in the water…”
“I think you’re nuts,” Jimmy said. “I think you’re honest to goodness nuts.”
Tony shrugged. “This does not seem fair for you, eh? To be in the water with this one.” He motioned at the turtle. “This seems nuts to you. Crazy to you. Because in the water you are not a match.”
“What are you trying to prove, Pa?”
“Jimmy, this turtle is putting up his life. In the road here you are putting up nothing. You have nothing to lose at all. Not a finger or a hand or your life. Nothing. You smash him with a long steel bumper jack, and he cannot get to you. He has as much chance as a ripe watermelon.”
“So, I want you to put up something also. You should have something to lose or it is not a match.”
Jimmy looked at the old man and then at the turtle.
“Any fool can smash a watermelon,” Tony said. “It does not take a brave man.”
“Pa, it’s only a turtle. You’re making a federal case.”
Old Tony looked at his son. “All right,” he said. “Finish your coffee now and do what you are going to do. I say nothing more. Only for the next five minutes put yourself into this turtle’s place. Put yourself into his shell and watch through his eyes and try to think what he is thinking when he sees a coward coming to kill him with a long, steel bumper jack.”
Jimmy got to his feet and ground out his cigarette.
“All right, Pa,” he said. “All right. You win.”
Tony rose slowly from his crouch.
“No,” he said. “Not me. You. You win.”
“But, Pa, they do kill trout.”
“So,” Tony said. “They kill trout. Nature put them here, and they kill trout. To survive. The trout are not extinct, eh? We kill trout, also, we men. To survive? No, for sport. This old one, he takes what he needs. I do not kill him for being in nature’s plan. I do not play God.”
Jimmy walked to the rear of the wagon then and flung down the bumper jack and closed up the door and came back.
“Pa,” he said. “Honest to goodness you got the nuttiest ideas I ever heard.”
Old Tony walked around behind the snapper and gently prodded it with his boot toe, and the turtle went waddling forward across the road and toppled over the sand shoulder and disappeared in the brushy growth of the creek bank. Tony and his son climbed into the wagon and sat looking at each other. The sun was coming up strong now and the sky was crackling open like a shell and spilling reds, golds, and blues, and Jimmy started the engine.
Tony put the thermos away and got out his cigarette and stuck one in his son’s mouth.
“So?” he said.
They sat smoking for a full minute watching each other, and then Jimmy released the emergency and they rolled slowly along the drying sand road and down past the huge cleansing dawn coming, and the pine forests growing tall in the rising mists, and the quickly quite waters of the eternal creek.
The trout (S.O’Faolain)
Julia always goes running into the Dark Walk,a tunnel that is covered with bushes, and is not dry on the pathway. She invites her brother to come along, trying to terrify him as much as she was terrified. They came back home and boast that they had been through the tunnel. Julia, age twelve, was asked if they had seen the well. She doesn't believe there is a well; so she said “Nonsense”. But she went back to the tunnel to look for the well. She found a hole, scooped in a rock, and a panting trout. She brought her brother, Stephen, in to see it. They were so fascinated that they no longer had any fear. She even brought the kitchen-garden man down to see it. He asked how the trout could have gotten there. She lifted the trout up because if she found it, it must be hers. Her mother and father made up stories as to the existence of the trout.
It bothered her that the trout was motionless. She brought him food.but he ignored it. She heard her mother tell tall tales of the fish including fairy godmothers and other fairy tale things. She did not believe in that. One night she goes down and finds the trout and puts him in a pitcher and races to the river’s edge. She was afraid that he would escape from the pitcher,but she made it safely to the river. She releases him, sees him swim away, and feels a great deal of joy in that act. In the morning her brother comes running, yelling that the trout was gone and demanding to know where he went. She told him that the fairy godmother came and got him.