cover image Treetops: A Family Memoir

Treetops: A Family Memoir

Susan Cheever. Bantam Books, $19.95 (0pp) ISBN 978-0-553-07225-9

This measured, absorbing reminiscence by the daughter of John Cheever and the great-granddaughter of Thomas Watson--who with Alexander Graham Bell devised the telephone--explores what her family's myths ``reveal and what they hide.'' One revelation is the link among the family's famous men--the talent, determination and timing that made successes of Watson, his son-in-law Milton Winternitz, (former dean of Yale Medical School), and John Cheever himself. What the myths do not reveal are the lives of the women--stubborn, gifted and seemingly strong, yet shaped by the men they ``happened to end up with.'' Helen Watson Winternitz graduated from medical school, but never practiced medicine. Elizabeth Kimball Watson is reduced to a line in her husband's autobiography. Mary Winternitz Cheever is the only female in the clan to have prevailed, maintaining both her family and a career as a college teacher. From the cluster of New Hampshire family cottages called Treetops, Cheever ( Home Before Dark ) sheds light on an American dynasty and on the very different lives of its men and women--the former self-directed and linear, the latter social and mosaic-like. The book's shortcoming: Cheever's reflections are less deep than the family would appear to call for. Photos not seen by PW . (Mar.)