The History of Literature #227 – The Country Husband by John Cheever

John Cheever (1912-1982) scratched the surface of the American suburbs and found that they were built over a deep pit of despair. His short stories and novels, which chronicled the lives of those damaged psyches trying to put an alcohol-fueled gloss on the world’s dark stains, earned him admiration and acclaim – and seem to have done little to ease his own pain. In this episode, Jacke takes a look at one of Cheever’s masterpieces, “The Country Husband” (1954), which tells the story of a man who survives a plane crash only to find that nothing in his world as a husband and father has changed. What other breaks in the continuum might there be? Can any of them pull him out of his nightmarish fugue state? Is a dying star destined to fall and fade, or can it point the way to something grand?

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Music Credits:

“Et Voila” by Kevin MacLeod (

Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 License

The History of Literature #178 – Shirley Jackson and “The Lottery”


In this episode, we take a look at the classic twentieth-century American short story, “The Lottery” (1948) by Shirley Jackson. Why did it cause such an uproar? Who banned it and why? And how well does it hold up today? We’ll be discussing all this and more with special guest Evie Lee.

SHIRLEY JACKSON was born in 1916 in San Francisco, California, before leaving to attend college at Syracuse University. After marrying her college sweetheart, whom she met at the university’s literary magazine, she resettled in Vermont and began her brief but highly successful literary career. Her best works, like The Haunting of Hill House (1959) and “The Lottery,” continue to provoke readers with their shocking twists and disturbing effects. Although she was only 48 when she died of a heart condition in 1965, she left behind six novels, two memoirs, and over 200 short stories.

NOTE: “The Lottery” is one of the most spoilable stories ever written. But no need to fear: we will be reading the story in its entirety before our discussion.

Help support the show at or (We appreciate it!) Find out more at,, or by following Jacke and Mike on Twitter at @thejackewilson and @literatureSC. Or send an email to

Sneak Preview: The Most Bewildering Book in the Bible


Bonus episode tomorrow: we look at the Book of Job and the fascinating question of why a good, all-powerful God permits pain and suffering. And what happens when a lowly human dares to ask this question? The dialogue between God and Job is without a doubt one of the greatest moments in all of literature.

Joan Acocella offers some thoughts on the significance of the book and the reasons why it still fascinates today:

I believe that if you woke a lot of people in the middle of the night, and asked them why they cared about the Book of Job, they would name the most troubling, least sympathetic character in that document: God. He, not Job, is the star of the Book, and though he is not loving or fair, that seems to be part of the attraction.

Image credit: William Blake’s “Behemoth and Leviathan,” creatures of an all-powerful God. courtesy Morgan Library & Museum (

The Jacke Wilson One-Word Test: Are Your Themes What You Expected?

Years ago The New Yorker ran a cartoon after Ken Burns had just come out with his second major documentary, Baseball. (The first, of course, had been the masterpiece The Civil War.) The cartoon showed a man’s hand holding a piece of paper with “Ken Burns To-Do List” at the top. Underneath the title it said:




I thought of this when writing the third book I plan to release. My list could be:




Fascinating! As a trilogy, you could call it AMERICA and not be far off. I’ll put the series name in bold:





What would you call the Ken Burns trilogy? That’s the joke, really. In the cartoon it would be:  Continue reading