”The Country Husband” opens as Francis Weed, a middle-aged family man, is aboard a plane that is making an emergency crash landing in a corn field. When he returns home, his wife, Julia, and their four children are uninterested in his experience. Francis, John Cheever however, feels that he has been given a second chance to live life.
After dinner, Francis goes to his backyard garden where he thinks about his experience and listens to the usual sounds of his suburban neighborhood. The narrator tells the reader that the Weeds are social people. Julia is especially wrapped up in the social life of Shady Hill, the New England suburb in which they live.
The next evening, Francis and Julia attend a party, and everything seems as usual. When Francis notices the maid, he recognizes her. He recalls a time during the war when he was in France and saw a woman publicly humiliated for living with a German officer. Her head was shaved and she was forced to walk out of town naked. The maid is this woman, but Francis tells no one about this compelling incident. He knows that the party-goers are content pretending that nothing bad has ever happened or ever will.
Francis and Julia return home to a new babysitter, a teenager named Anne Murchison. Francis is instantly fixated on the girl; he drives her home and feels sorry for her when she tells him about her father’s drinking problem. Francis becomes obsessed with the girl, imagining that they will have a sexual relationship. These fantasies make him feel alive and seem to embolden him to acts of rebellion, such as insulting one of the leading members of Shady Hill society.
One day, Francis arrives home to find Anne in the hallway. He brazenly kisses her (she resists) and is seen by Gertrude, a neighborhood girl who is also standing in the hallway. He tells Gertrude not to tell anyone what she saw. The narrator does not say what Anne does after the kiss.
Later, Clayton Thomas, a young man in the neighborhood, visits the Weeds. Clayton has no tolerance for the artificiality of Shady Hill and plans to move to New York with his mother. He also plans to marry Anne when she finishes high school. After Clayton leaves, Francis and Julia have a fight that almost leads to Julia’s leaving.
The next day at work, Francis is asked to help Clayton find a job, but Francis undermines him instead. At this point, Francis decides to see a psychiatrist to help him deal with his feelings for Anne. The psychiatrist recommends a distraction, so Francis takes up woodworking. As the story ends, Francis is in the cellar making a coffee table.
Thomas E. Barden – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 14, John Cheever – Published by Gale Cengage Learning.