Cheever: Book summary and reviews of Cheever by Blake Bailey

Cheever

A Life

By Blake Bailey

Cheever
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  • Published in USA  Mar 2009,
    784 pages.

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Book Summary

From the acclaimed author of A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates comes the unforgettable life of John Cheever (1912–1982), a man who spent much of his career impersonating a perfect suburban gentleman, the better to become one of the foremost chroniclers of postwar America. “I was born into no true class,” Cheever mused in his journal, “and it was my decision, early in life, to insinuate myself into the middle class, like a spy, so that I would have an advantageous position of attack, but I seem now and then to have forgotten my mission and to have taken my disguises too seriously.”

Written with unprecedented access to essential sources—including Cheever’s massive journal, only a fraction of which has ever been published—Blake Bailey’s biography reveals the troubled but strangely lovable man behind the disguises, an artist who delighted in the everyday radiance of the world while yearning, above all, “to be illustrious.”

Cheever’s was a soul in conflict: he was a proud Yankee who flaunted his lineage while deploring the provincialism of his Quincy, Massachusetts, family circle; a high-school dropout who published his first story at eighteen; a pioneer of suburban realist fiction who continually pushed the boundaries of realism; a dire alcoholic who recovered to write the great novel Falconer; a secret bisexual who struggled with his longings and his fierce homophobia in a revolving door of self-loathing and hedonism. We see a man who concealed his anxieties behind the mask of a genial Westchester squire—a paterfamilias in Brooks Brothers clothes whose world was peopled by legendary writers and beautiful women (Malcolm Cowley, Saul Bellow, William Maxwell, Hope Lange, and John Updike, among them); whose groundbreaking work landed him on the covers of Time and Newsweek; a man whose demons and desperation were never quite vanquished by the joy he found in his work.

Blake Bailey has written a luminous biography, a revelation of a writer of timeless fiction and of the man behind the page.

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Book Awards

  • award image National Book Critics Circle Award, 2010

Reviews

Media Reviews

"Starred Review. Perhaps a Cheever renaissance of sorts will result from this magnificently understanding and understandable biography based on copious research and destined to be the definitive life treatment." –Booklist.

"Starred Review. A comprehensive treatment of the tormented but artful life of one of fiction's modern masters . . . Bailey plunges deeply into the murky, sometimes fetid stew of John Cheever's life. . . Superb work that shows Cheever wrestling with dark angels, but wresting from these encounters some celestial prose." – Kirkus Reviews.

"[An] always entertaining biography, composed with a novelist's eye . . . [Cheever] has probably yet to find a definitive position in American letters among academicians. This thoroughly researched and heartfelt biography may help redress the situation." – Publishers Weekly.

"The biographer is sympathetic toward his subject but presents all sides of Cheever's complex character, including his alcoholism, bisexuality, fears, struggles, and often turbulent relationships with fellow writers and family. Highly recommended ..." - Library Journal.

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More Information

More Information

Blake Bailey is the editor of a two-volume edition of Cheever's work, published in 2009 by The Library of America. His last book, A Tragic Honesty, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He received a Guggenheim fellowship in 2005, and his articles and reviews have appeared in Slate, The New York Times, the New York Observer, and elsewhere. He lives in Virginia with his wife and daughter.

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