“The Five-Forty-Eight” was first published by John Cheever on April 10, 1954 in The New Yorker before reappearing four years later as part of his collection of short stories The Housebreaker of Shady Hill. Interestingly, it predates the publication of The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit which also a critical view of the emotionally deadening experience of white collar executive employment in the big city. Admittedly, of course, Cheever’s story is more like if that novel had been written by Stephen King.
The short story is one of the first and most intense examinations of urban anxiety with an unexpected twist of feminist empowerment driving its hard-edge and uncomfortable narrative. The dystopic specter of suburban malaise that permeates throughout Cheever’s work is definitely felt here on the ride home from the urban jungle of New York into what turns out to be a nightmare of familiarity for the executive who gets a much-needed schooling in how to treat other people.
Such is the visceral impact of Cheever’s prose that “The Five-Forty-Eight” has been adapted for everything from a radio drama to an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents to an adaptation by PBS for inclusion in a video trilogy of Cheever stories.
“The Five-Forty-Eight” also earned Cheever the Benjamin Franklin Award.