John Cheever, el Chéjov norteamericano

John Cheever en su estudio

Por Katia Rodríguez

Miseria, infelicidad, depresión, fobias. Eso reflejan los personajes de la clase media ascendiente neoyorkina que durante seis décadas plasmó en su obra John Cheever (1912-1982), considerado el Antón Chéjov de Nueva York por su capacidad de reflejar la realidad de las personas en la época en que vivió. En el marco de la XXXIII Feria Internacional del Libro del Palacio de Minería, el ensayista Federico Campbell dirigió la conferencia “El Ángel del Puente. A Cien Años del Nacimiento de John Cheever”, en memoria del autor americano.

Aunque John Cheever nació hace cien años —en Quincy, Massachusetts—, su esencia se considera totalmente neoyorkina. El escritor de una centena de cuentos, considerados por Campbell como “magistrales” y “memorables”, hace en su obra una radiografía del mundo de los seres infelices con buen nivel económico que viven en la Gran Manzana, ciudad que es el corazón cultural, empresarial y migratorio de Estados Unidos desde inicios del siglo XX.

El nombre de Cheever, ganador del Premio National Book en 1958 y 1981, siempre estará relacionado con la revista literaria The New Yorker. Como explicó Campbell, a pesar de las limitaciones que posee esta publicación al ser pensada para los hogares, Cheever logró por medio de un lenguaje conciso plasmar la realidad de temas como las drogas y el alcoholismo —problemas que el cuentista desarrolló hacia la década de los 60, en la cúspide de su carrera— o la homosexualidad. Sin embargo, el ensayista tijuanense aclaró que la literatura de Cheever es divertida a pesar de las temáticas que aborda.

El compendio de cuentos Relatos de John Cheever (1978) le hizo merecedor al Premio Pulitzer en 1979. Fueron pocas las novelas que publicó el norteamericano ya que siempre procuró decir lo más con lo menos, utilizar la palabra de forma justa y necesaria a lo que requería el texto. “Ellos son de los autores que si sienten que la historia ya está contada y el personaje está estructurado en el cuento, ya no desarrollan una novela”, explicó el conferencista.

Sin embargo, la novela más destacable del autor es, para Campbell, Falconer (1977) que narra las experiencias de un profesor universitario drogadicto encerrado por fratricidio. Una novela basada en la experiencia del autor como coordinador de un taller en una prisión.

El Ángel del Puente

Federico Campbell, autor de la columna “La hora del lobo”, contó que su primer acercamiento con John Cheever fue cuando éste pertenecía al taller literario de Juan José Arreola. En esa época “surgió por mi enamoramiento de la Ciudad de Nueva York que la conocí muy joven, tenía 20 años.” Todo lo que fuera neoyorkino le interesaba.

“Si alguien me pregunta, ¿has leído a John Cheever? Yo le diría: ‘Claro, lo leí hace muchos años con una novela, Falconer; algunos cuentos a lo mucho’. Pero de lo único que me acuerdo es de haber leído el cuento llamado ‘El Ángel del Puente’: es un cuento muy melancólico, muy triste. El personaje que cuenta la historia es un hombre deshecho que ha perdido toda la esperanza; que ha pasado el tiempo y se ha dado cuenta que su vida no tiene mucho sentido. Ese sentimiento de derrota, de fracaso, que puede tener un hombre de cincuenta sesenta años cuando mira hacia atrás y ve que todo su trabajo se le escurrió como agua de las manos.”

La historia versa sobre un hombre que sufre una caída represiva. El protagonista tiene una madre que le gusta vestirse de jovencita y patinar en el Rockefeller Center; su hermano, tiene fobia a tomar un elevador. El mismo personaje termina desarrollando una fobia a cruzar los puentes, provocando que piense que su vida ha perdido sentido. “Lo que insinúa Cheever —conforme a la estructura de este personaje— es que probablemente es un suicida. Es alguien que se va a suicidar”, sentencia Campbell. Sin embargo, un día conoce en la entrada de un puente a un ángel, una muchacha joven que logra que él cruce el puente con ella. Aunque al final se despiden, el protagonista encuentra sentido a la vida.

Feria Internacional del Libro del Palacio de Minería / KRR

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