Reunion by: John Cheever is a short story about a boy who meets his father for the first time in three years, only to find that he is a rude and boisterous drunk rather than the parental figure that Charlie hoped to reconnect with. The father’s actions are initially humorous, but as Charlie, the narrator, retreats from commenting on events, and merely reports the increasingly outrageous actions of his father, his sadness at the grotesque way his father is acting is clear. This blend of humor and pathos, both of which arise from the grotesque boorishness of the father makes it all too clear why this was the last time the narrator, Charlie, sees his father.
The story is primarily comprised of a nearly third-person description of a quest for lunch that lasts less than two hours in which Charlie desperately hopes to reconnect with his estranged father. “As soon as Charlie sees his father, he feels that he was Charlie’s father, his flesh and blood, his future and his doom.” Despite not having seen his father in three years, Charlie immediately feels a strong emotional connection to him, as one would to a parental figure. On his father, he smells “A rich compound of whiskey, after-shave lotion, shoe polish, woolens, and the rankness of the mature male.” He is intrigued by every aspect of his father and takes it in, “The same way his mother sniffs a rose.” This opening uses grotesque elements to provide an uncomfortably accurate description of his father, showing the extent to which Charlie is taking in everything about him and mentally building him up as a newfound hero before he shows his true colors as an obnoxious alcoholic. Upon being seated at a restaurant, the father yells, “Could we have a little service here… Chop- Chop”. at the waiter, who takes discomfort in the father’s crude manner. The father responds to this discomfort, saying “I should have brought my whistle… I have a whistle that is audible only to the ears of old waiters.” This exchange uses grotesque elements to create humor by showing an exchange in which the father is so rude that he is almost cartoonish despite this being a situation that the reader would not personally want to be in. This happens again in three different restaurants with the father continuing to get a visceral reaction out of the waiters present by taunting and bullying them.
The father never does get his son the promised lunch, as he is instead progressively more drunk and belligerent toward those who would serve him, prompting his son finally to leave him when they return to Grand Central Station, overcome with sadness.