I was on the railroad going to New York City this season, and experienced something I thought I’d briefly share.
The book I was reading was entitled, The Letters of John Cheever, edited by the author’s son Bejamin. I needed to be at a meeting at the Essex House, on 59th and 6th, and coincidentally, reading some of the letters on the train that morning, I learned that Mr. Cheever spent six years of his writing life living with his family in an apartment building at 400 East 59th Street.
Ignoring the fact that the distance between these two points is considerable if you are inclined to walk, I felt an obligation to see the home of one of the great contemporary literary writers of our time, whose Stories collection has roused me and countless others the world over. Although Mr. Cheever died twenty years ago, and had moved out of his Manhattan residence thirty years before that, I was hoping for something there to engage or inspire me, however small the discovery.
In one of his letters, he writes, “I spend most of my time in the chamber-maid’s cell in the basement.” In another, “Mary watches in her night gown from the 9th floor and I walk up and down the sidewalk and wring my hands.” My mission was clear. I wanted to see the cell in the basement, to walk the corridors and rooms of the 9th floor.
Unfortunately, it was not meant to be. The doorman would not have it. I was too honest, explaining why I was there. Had I said I was a friend of a current resident, I may have had better luck. Evidently the doorman was not familiar with the inhabitant of a half-century ago, nor appreciative of anyone inclined to pay homage to an American Book Award recipient.
The bad news continued outside: Looking at 400 East 59th Street from across the street, it appeared dormant, deprived of any character, plain. Not the look of other, older buildings in Manhattan - rich, filling, ornate structures that find their way into coffee table books and postcards - but rather a look that conjured nothing, a boring, tasteless box of dirty brown brick. It was actually very sad to see.
If the exterior was any indication of what the interior was like, I cringe at a vision of the basement cell, where perhaps under one solitary incandescent bulb, among piles of unfolded clothes and empty wine cartons, typewriter keys were at one time clicking, forming words that may live on for centuries. It seemed a very unlikely place for such things to have been borne.
If I was inspired at all that day I walked over to 400 East 59th Street, it would have been to realize that a writer may not need the great green of a huge backyard, situated between a mansion and a river, to write what needs to be written. It’s possible anywhere, anyplace, just might do. - J Levens
For our Winter issue of The Summerset Review, we introduce Rachel Belinda Kidder, who tells the story of a girl coming into her own through the instruments of imagination and playing cards. We are thankful for the accompanying graphic by Jenny de Groot.
Soo J. Hong sets us on a Los Angeles freeway and allows us a look at factors affecting a marriage at some point between the end of the honeymoon and the beginning of motherhood.
Max Dunbar visits the concept in the classic poem, "To Electra," by Robert Herrick, combining it with Manchester pubs, Carlings, and the parallels of conversations.
Michael Marisi uses coincidental effects to share an attachment and a longing many of us have experienced at one time or another.
Ulf Wolf takes us on a journey away from home and fills it with reconciliations and reconsiderations, making us wonder sometimes what could happen if we ventured into blue pickup trucks going east to seemingly brighter lights.
The staff of The Summerset Review invite you to read and enjoy these stories, and we thank you for visiting.