Reunion by John Cheever

Reunion is two pages long. It’ll probably take you less than ten minutes to finish. But the story will stay with you for a lot longer than that. You’ll get immersed in the dialogue, attached to the characters, and wholly invested in the story. And the final words will echo in your mind and sink into your stomach and leave you with an inexplicable sense of regret. I don’t think there are many stories that have the ability to hold that much power in so few words, which is why I believe Reunion is a necessary read.

At its surface, Reunion is a simple story about a father and son. But even the first line, despite its brevity, conveys the depth and emotional complexity of the boy’s relationship with his father:

“The last time I saw my father was in Grand Central Station.”

Charlie hasn’t seen his father for three years, since his father divorced Charlie’s mother, and is now meeting him for a few hours in New York where his father has been staying. Throughout the meeting, the reader watches both of them struggle to repair and make sense of their relationship. In the end, both Charlie – and the reader – come to the saddening, but inevitable, realization that Charlie can never have the relationship he has always hoped to have with his father.

Cheever’s prose is simple, bare – shaved to the core. His language isn’t adorned with stylistic vocabulary and complex syntactical structures. And its simplicity is what makes the two page tale so effective. Cheever’s ability to manipulate the flow of every single sentence makes the reading process so smooth and so effortless that it comes alive in your mind – you can almost hear the muffled voices of a crowd, can nearly smell the rustic scent of the father’s coat. Rather than reading, you’re watching the story unfold, scene by scene.

Though the language is what makes Reunion accessible, what’s most compelling about the story is its poignant honesty. It is raw and brutally real: an unfortunate depiction of the stark brokenness that underlie many father-son relationships today. Throughout the course of Charlie and his father’s short time together, you empathize with, and even internalize, the deep, complex emotions – from frustration, to disappointment, to regret – that Charlie is forced to endure. You become so emotionally invested that you, like Charlie, hope that their relationship can be salvaged by the end. But deep down you know, just as Charlie does, that there is nothing left to salvage.

“Goodbye, Daddy,” I said, and I went down the stairs and got my train, and that was the last time I saw my father.

Here’s the PDF version. Like I said, it’s a quick read – you won’t need more than 10 minutes. But it’s worth every minute and more.

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