John Cheever and John Updike have both been cited as writers of American suburbia, and indeed they do delve into that area of American life in their works. The writers are very different in their style, tone, and the subject matter they tackle, however, and should not be mistaken for one another by any careful reader. They come from different generations as well, and yet Cheever's suburbia, holds the promise of a new form of the American dream, but, is treated by the author as the thing that destroys it. Updike's suburbia is treated more as a simple fact of modern life, although his characters find it difficult living up to the expectations of suburban life. An examination of several stories by each writer can show some of the ways each approaches their subject matter, their stylistic concerns, and their differences as writers.
Cheever's "The Death of Justina" has as its narrator an advertising man who lives in suburbia and who commutes to New York each day. His name is Moses. Justina is a cousin of his wife, and while she is visiting, she dies suddenly. The story has a certain wildly humorous tone that derives from the anger of the narrator as he details how he is refused permission to hold the funeral at his house because of zoning laws, and how he threatens the mayor that if he is not given permission to hold the funeral at the house, he will bury Justina in the garden.
The mood of the story is evident from the opening passage:
So help me God it gets more and more preposterous, it corresponds less and less to what I remember and what I expect as if the force of life were centrifugal and threw one further and further away from one's purest memories and ambitions. . . (Cheever 505).
He is referring here not only to the problem with Justina but to his life, to his suburban role, to his job where his boss wants him to write a commercial for a product called Elixircol. He is a man who deals with illusion, and he ...