Tuesday, November 2, 2010


Being a writer all this time, you'd think I would know more about John Cheever than what everyone else knows. The terrible truth is, I know what "Cheever Country" is. It's Westchester and upper middle class people riding the commuter train back and forth to work in Manhattan.

I also knew he wrote FALCONER, which I read in college, in a literature class, and therefor read with almost zero comprehension, and probably never finished and came away from it knowing it was about a guy in prison who comes to love another guy. And it was boring.

But I did remember the huge THE STORIES OF JOHN CHEEVER, which showed up in my parent's house back in the 70s and how this book was a big deal. Partly because it was so large, and had such an elegant cover but also because it had one of those magic buzzes about it. It seemed to glow. Like THE WORLD ACCORDING TO GARP and BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS or, out west where I lived SEVEN ARROWS and a few other things. It was one of those books the grownups handled reverently ... you knew it was important and awesome ... and I must have read that first story, "O My Brother", once a decade my whole life ...but probably never read another story ...

Anyway, so now I am reading BLAKE BAILEY's bio of John Cheever and am sort of having my mind blown. John Cheever isn't some upper class Westchester stuffed shirt, like I thought. He was sort of a wild child. He didn't graduate from high school. He lived on people's couches for years. He was wildly and pretty openly gay. He was a good old fashioned liar. All the great luminaries of his day were all over him. They adored and protected him. It's really an amazing story and it totally changes my thoughts on him.

I always thought he was one of those boring writers that kind of overachieve because they were in the Ivy League crowd. And the critics like them. In fact, he is a chronic underachiever, he was constantly told that HE was the voice of his generation and he needed to write his great first novel that would define his group and make him famous. But he couldn't! he kept writing New Yorker stories for the money.

I won't say anything more because I am only up to age 30 in the bio. But it's great fun. And a great biography, giving all sorts of fun tidbits and giving you a good blast of the feel of the times, which of course make us look like a bunch of new age wusses, which of course we are....

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