What are you reading?
Once again I found myself casting about for something to read over the weekend. I picked Susan Cheever’s memoir of her father John Cheever (May 27, 1912 – June 18, 1982) from the bookshelf. I received it as a Christmas present in 1984.
So I have been reading Home Before Dark again and enjoying it very much. Old John Cheever, the “influential twentieth century fiction writer affectionately known as ‘the Chekhov of the suburbs,'” is such a familiar type of dude to me–the waspy, literate Yankee gentleman who is also a terrible alcoholic.
I mean look at him in his shetland sweater. He was even a practicing Episcopalian who said grace before every meal! So familiar. Like my own pater, he made to age 70, but just barely.
It’s true that this “brilliant chronicler of American suburbia” led a tortured double life filled with sexual guilt, self-loathing and immense quantities of booze. Unfortunately his bad behavior went way beyond drinking too much. But I really think Susan Cheever could have stopped after writing her first memoir. Did she need to write another? Cheever’s son Ben has edited a collection of his letters. And they sold his journals in an auction. He has been turned inside out. Does anyone deserve this?
Anyway, I bought a used copy of The Stories of John Cheever and I will re-acquaint myself with his writing, which is what we should remember old Cheever for, right? I will resist reading Blake Baily’s 700-page Cheever: A Life which chronicles every sordid detail and secret of his life. Enough already.
An aged man is but a paltry thing, a tattered coat upon a stick, unless he sees the bright plumage of the bird called courage–Cardinalis virginius, in this case–and oh how his heart leapt.
–John Cheever, Oh What a Paradise it Seems