Cheever: A Life

Blake Bailey, Author
Blake Bailey, Author . Knopf $35 (770p) ISBN 978-1-4000-4394-1
Reviewed on: 11/24/2008
Release date: 03/01/2009
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Three biographies of 20th-century American short story masters.

Cheever: A Life Blake Bailey . Knopf , $35 (736p) ISBN 978-1-4000-4394-1

Rebellious Yankee son of a father who fell victim to the Depression and a doo-gooder-turned-businesswoman mother, father to three competitive children he rode mercilessly but adored, chronicler par excellence of the 1950s American suburban scene while deploring all forms of conformity: John Cheever (1912–1982) was a mass of contradictions. In this overlong but always entertaining biography, composed with a novelist's eye, Bailey, biographer of Richard Yates and editor of two volumes of Cheever's work for Library of America (also due in March), was given access to unpublished portions of Cheever's famous journals and to family members and friends. Bailey's book is fine in descriptions of Cheever's reactions to other writers, such as his adored Bellow and detested Salinger. Bailey is also sensitive in describing the prickly dynamic of Cheever's domestic life, lived through a haze of alcoholism and under the shadow of extramarital heterosexual and homosexual relationships. This “Ovid in Ossining,” who published 121 stories in the New Yorker as well as several bestselling novels, has probably yet to find a definitive position in American letters among academicians. This thoroughly researched and heartfelt biography may help redress that situation. 24 pages of photos. (Mar. 12)

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