Short story: “The Swimmer”
by look i have opinions
“The Swimmer,” by John Cheever
12 pages; perhaps 3,000 words?
To me this feels like a symbolic representation of Ned’s late realization that he has wasted his life. But I think it’s probably more about the complacency of somebody who’s accustomed to social privilege and general good luck.
It’s funny how much speculative fiction is woven into the literary canon (I sense echoes of “Rip Van Winkle” here).
There’s no definite reality behind this story; it seems fatuous to attribute Ned’s experience to time travel or to mental illness, even though either would be reasonably plausible reading. The story is meaningful without having to take place in a coherent world. (Edited to add: Could that be what “magic realism” means?)