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Amber Paulen

Still Reading John Cheever

It seems I’ve hit an obsession in my reading that signals a repetitiveness of thinking that I don’t expect to fade for months. Really, I can blame Simon who is reading our copy of 1Q84, so caused me to seek out another book, which is never difficult.

Blake Bailey’s biography on John Cheever is especially thick and detailed. I’m almost halfway done, though Cheever is halfway done with his life, which makes me wonder about the balance of a lifespan in general and how can the bulk of life be spent at the end? Like his stories, Cheever’s life seems defined by a duality—more or less repressed homosexuality—that must have arrived at a climax the older he got. I have had to remind myself that Cheever was living at a time when homosexuality could be considered a crime, and for someone who was worried about cutting a refined figure, it would be advised to avoid such tendencies, if avoidance was possible. If there will be a lesson I gain from reading Cheever’s life, it may be that the difficulties of being true to yourself can combust under the self-destructive tendencies of the artist.

Usually I come at a writer’s biography after having read a great bulk of the writer’s work. But this was not the case with Cheever. I’m presented with an interesting method for study, for Bailey critiques Cheever’s stories and I’m trying to keep up.

The stories I read last week:

This story makes me think of Cheever’s love of domesticity, how he came to consider it a harbor and protection when he was having “profane” desires. A woman could never consider a domestic life similarly. The Season of Divorce proves Cheever understood that, though he criticized Mary when she worked out of the house.


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