For John Cheever, all gall is divided into three parts. Geographically, the world is the cultural East Coast of America; Cleveland, Ohio; or Europe. Emotionally, his characters are unhappily married, separated, or divorced. Economically, they are lower-middle class, middle-middle class, or upper-middle class. The Stories of John Cheever aim at ordering life’s joys into 61 neat, analytical and specious bundles.
‘The Geometry of Love’ is a representative story with an emblematic title. Charlie Mallory, like most of Cheever’s men, is a moderately successful businessman, working in New York and commuting to his suburban nest. It’s a slow day at the office, so he shops for a screwdriver to mend his filing cabinet.
‘It was one of those rainy late afternoons when the toy department of Woolworth’s on Fifth Ave is full of women who appear to have been taken in adultery and who are now shopping for a present to carry home to their youngest child.’
To his moderate surprise, a fur coat he recognizes is attached to his wife, Mathilda. He greets her, she turns and accuses him of spying, threatens to call the police, pays for a wooden duck, and storms out. Back in his office, Mallory is stunned. ‘It was not that he had lost his sense of reality but that the reality he observed had lost its fitness and symmetry.’ He gazes out the window and spots a small truck advertising euclid’s dry cleaning & dyeing. A Cheeverish thought strikes him:
‘What he needed was a new form of ratiocination, and Euclid might do. If he could make a geometric analysis of his problems, mightn’t he solve them, or at least create an atmosphere of solution.’
So, slide rule in hand, poor Mallory plunges on, with the optimistic desperation of a man arranging his empty martini glasses at the Oyster Bar in Grand Central Station.