If Barnes can help to spark a Cheever revival, it will validate a pronouncement the author made in the last year of his life, as he accepted one last award: “A page of good prose remains invincible.” These stories testify to that truth again and again.
He was not, by most accounts, a very nice person, but he was a great writer. Yet as his style developed and the stories veered further from realism, his old home began to reject them, and he found new outlets including Playboy. “They pay well and are hospitable, and the tits aren’t any more distracting than the girdle advertisements in The New Yorker.” But the strangeness in some of his stories may be their greatest strength. It’s here, often in the closing lines that overturn what has gone before, that he works out that mystery and mystification that troubled him, and “celebrate[s] a world that lies spread out around us like a bewildering and stupendous dream”.