The author's unprecedented access to Cheever's journals and archival materials left no vulgar stone unturned, so Hillgartner has a lot of work to do. Bailey adheres so closely to the particulars of his research that every other sentence contains direct quotation from a diary or story, which Hillgartner inflects with ease each time. The subtlety of his pacing and pausing throughout the whole sordid tale is matched by his spot-on rendering of Cheever's entirely fake Boston Brahmin accent. This longing to be part of the wealthy upper crust is an ever-looming instinct in Bailey's psychological portrait, alongside Cheever's homophobia and corresponding self-loathing over his own repressed bisexuality.
But anxiety about money and sex are only the foundations upon which Cheever's house of cards come tumbling down time after time; the devil is in the details. Bailey feels compassion for his subject but he also doesn't let a single ugly anecdote slip by unannounced. With civilized restraint, Hillgartner tirelessly narrates Bailey's 70 years in 50 chapters of familial uprising and literary infighting. Cheever himself thinly veiled many of these experiences in his writing, which Bailey usefully and tightly connects here. On the whole, this book verges on the sensational. While John Cheever would be delighted to know he's worth such an in-depth examination, he would also no doubt be horrified by what this particular examination reveals. It's Hillgartner's affectionate and responsible approach to the telling that keeps you rooting for Cheever all the way to his bitter end. Megan Volpert
Cheever was a soul in conflict, a high-school dropout who published his first story at 18, a dire alcoholic who recovered to write the great novel Falconer, a secret bisexual who struggled with his longings and his fierce homophobia, whose groundbreaking work landed him on the covers of Time and Newsweek, a man who believed in the power of family love and sexual pleasure, a man whose desperate loneliness was never wholly offset by his faith in the joy of creation.
©2009 Blake Bailey; (P)2009 Blackstone Audio, Inc.
"The most exquisite, compelling and heartbreaking life I've yet encountered. Blake Bailey doesn't merely write like an angel, he is an angel - he seamlessly resuscitates the past to make it live and breathe in the present, and he writes with all the power and authority of our finest novelists." (T.C. Boyle, author of The Women)
French professor, ebook creator, and bien d'autres choses (lots of other things). Franceinfo.us. Fan of 19th-20th Cent French & European Fiction, western thought (homer to heidegger), Rushdie, Murakami....
A great biography - and a lot of painful revelations about Cheever. I was always a fan of his short stories - but this book goes into details about the pain of creation, and failure, and family life, too. It's too bad Cheever is not more widely read.
Updike is the natural pair for cheever. Same generation, slightly different feel.
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