“The Worm in the Apple” Summary: John Cheever Short Story

“The Worm in the Apple” is a short story by John Cheever that appeared in his 1958 collection The Housebreaker of Shady Hill and Other Stories. It’s about a family who seem too good to be true—onlookers are sure there’s a worm in the apple, some pain or trauma below the surface that they’re desperately trying to endure. Here’s a summary of “The Worm in the Apple”.

“The Worm in the Apple” Summary

Larry and Helen Crutchman are very happy and moderate in their habits. People assume they can’t be as contented as they seem, and they try to find their secret pain.

After the war, they moved to Shady Hill and had two children, Rachel and Tom. Larry spent four days on a life raft during the war, which could have scarred him. Helen inherited more money from her father than Larry will ever be able to make. These things don’t seem to affect them. Larry doesn’t have nightmares about the war. He goes to work enthusiastically and is active in the community. Helen stays busy with charity and lives modestly. They’re faithful to each other, despite many opportunities to wander.

The Worm in the Apple SummaryJohn Cheever Short Story
“The Worm in the Apple” Summary

Maybe the problem is with the kids. The parent’s conformity may have made them rebellious, but there’s no evidence it did.

Rachel was fat and aggressive as a young girl, and has big feet. Her mother might have harped on her feet and dressed her badly, feeling a sense of competition. But Rachel smiles at her mother with love.

Tom nearly died of pneumonia at six, but recovered completely. In high school, he ends up sitting next to Carrie Witchell, a pretty, high-spirited girl from a social climbing family. They’ve probably plotted to get in on Helen’s wealth. But Tom moves on from Carrie and marries Elizabeth Trustman. After serving  his time in the Army, he gets posted to Germany where they live happily.

Rachel gets pretty when she grows up and gets into some wayward behavior which could end badly. She falls in love with a German gardener, Eric, and they elope when she’s three months pregnant. Helen covers their expenses while Eric gets his Ph.D. in physics. Rather than pursuing more money, he teaches at Cambridge where he and Rachel are happy.

With the children grown and gone, the Crutchmans might be confronted with the meaninglessness of their lives and reality of their ages. They slow down a little but remain charming hosts and continue to enjoy their usual activities. They age gracefully and continue to get richer and richer and happier and happier.

“. . . watching this charming couple as they entertained their friends or read the books they enjoyed one might wonder if the worm was not in the eye of the observer. . .”

I hope this summary of “The Worm in the Apple” by John Cheever was helpful.