cover image John Cheever: A Biography

John Cheever: A Biography

Scott Donaldson. Random House (NY), $22.5 (416pp) ISBN 978-0-394-54921-7

Although a chronicler of suburbia, Cheever left New York City to live in Westchester County with great reluctance and only when forced either to purchase his apartment or give it up. His early stories portray the loveless lives of lunch-cart workers, stripteasers and sailors. In later years, the comfortably upper-middle-class novelist grew sickened with modern life's rootlessness and materialism. Donaldson, biographer of Fitzgerald and Hemingway, has achieved a coup of investigative reporting in this first in-depth biography of the writer. A troubled adolescent who felt unloved and guilty over his bisexuality, Cheever made love the central concern of his fiction. Donaldson delves into the writer's deteriorating marriage, his alcoholism, persistent phobias and self-disgust, his affairs with actress Hope Lange and composer Ned Rorem, blending in sensitive appraisals of the short stories and novels. Cheever's implicit belief that women and men are basically irreconcilable is analyzed in the context of his relationship to a dominant mother and a weak father who failed in business. Photos not seen by PW. (June)