Liquor plays a key role in the life of Neddy Merrill. John Cheever’s short story “The Swimmer” seems to be an elaborate personification of the stages of inebriation and memory suppression. In the pages of this novella-turned-short-story we see the continuing decline of the world through the eyes of the inebriated. In his various stages of drunkenness, Merrill’s surroundings mutate from friendly and realistic to harsh and surreal.
Cheever himself, during the creation of “The Swimmer” was an alcoholic, which critics have noted, set a darker tone upon his work. We see elements of this in Neddy himself who has a minimum of five drinks during the time of ...view middle of the document...
At one point it is even necessary for him to cross a riding arena, though the horses are nowhere to be found. “The gravel cut his feet but this was the only unpleasantness”(68). The plot wears on and, and the woes of Neddy Merrill become steadily deeper than the pools he swims through.
“It would storm… It was suddenly growing dark” (69). The storm comes on both a metaphorical and physical level. As he weathers the rain in a gazebo and makes note of the lanterns Mrs. Levy had bought in a Kyoto Ned discovers he cannot recall how long ago she had bought them.
Copious consumption of alcohol continues, the story becomes more and more muddled. Shortly after he passes his halfway point, his neighbors become more rude, Ned becomes less sure of his abilities. The world is more confusing than blissful as it was only a seemingly short time ago.
It is near this point that the regular intake of liquor seems to be severely impairing Ned’s memory. Upon reaching the residence of the Hallorans he is greeted with sympathy for his financial and family troubles of which Ned himself is unaware. Has he unknowingly blacked out for an extended period of time in the style of Rip Van Winkle?
Neddy soldiers on to more houses, one of which has a drained pool and a ’for sale’ sign posted in...