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This biography Cheever A Life by Blake Bailey won the Francis Parkman prize in 2010 John Cheever, the subject of this biography, was called the American Chekhov because of his mastery of the short story A prolific writer who wrote from the 1930s to 1970s, Cheever won major literary awards for The Wapshot Chronicle, Falconer and The Stories of John Cheever Stories published in 1979 a few years before his death was a collection of short stories including many that he had previously published in the New Yorker.This is a critically acclaimed biography for good reason There is little that we don t find out about Cheever in this impeccably researched and chronologically arranged tell all that was authorized by his children Bailey had access to many letters and conducted many interviews It also turns out that one of America s greatest writers kept personal diaries as in thousands of pages For those who knew Cheever, his alcoholism was hardly a revelation in this biography It is a common disease and much common in the waspy society of the 20th century that Cheever lived in He was married for than forty years and had three children with his wife Mary He was not a good husband by most measures I will get to that part in a bit.One will find that Cheever s stories, with some rare exceptions, are largely devoid of any explicit descriptions of sex He was not exactly a prude but when compared with authors like Updike he certainly seemed like one So it was a surprise that we learned from his journals and the ex lovers still around in 2010, when the biography was written, that Cheever had many affairs almost exclusively with men His journal entries were quite sexually explicit and rarely did he mention women He told two of his children about his bi sexuality on his deathbed believing the news would come out anyway after his death The biographer does not say if Mary knew 5 stars As good a biography about a writer that I have read I don t presume any famous writer to have been a moral role model so Cheever s failings were not that surprising But boy there were a lot of them. Dangit, Blake Bailey I am really loving Palace Walk, but you are like my goddamned idol at this point I don t like biographies, barely care about Cheever, and am too BUSY to mess with this right now And yet sigh What a wonderful jorb you do.Man, this guy really kills me Blake Bailey writes a biography like Richard Yates writes a novel Given, the material is sweet as hell, and that helps, but I swear, if I were a thirteen year old I would put a poster of Blake Bailey on my wall StuPENdous. I should have reviewed this right when I finished it so it would all still be fresh in my head, but here goes I have been a huge Cheever fan since I was a teenager and have always wished that he was the venerable New England author who lived on the street in Ipswich where I was born instead of Updike Updike can suck it, if you ask me He wrote some decent short stories, but the Rabbit books are the most boring, misogynistic sack of poo that I have ever zzzzzzz I knew a bit about Cheever s life from having read a few excerpts of the diaries and being acquainted with the pop cultural mythology surrounding the man Anyone who s ever read the Onion or watched Seinfeld knows of his alcoholism and fraught bisexuality Baily s biography did a superb job of plumbing the depths behind the myth and painting a three dimensional portrait of the man He does an incredibly thorough job acurately portraying a man who was so wrapped up in his own ego and mythology that, even in his journals, it is often difficult to separate fact from fiction The tone is admirably tempered walking the line between adulation for one of the most celebrated wordsmiths of 20th century American literature, pity for such a wonded, self loathing misfit desperate to cultivate a pedigree, and digust with the man s selfishness and mistreatment of his wife and children Cheever A Life is peppered with all of the gossipy literary tidbits you want out of a biography of the man whose propensity to drink astounded even Frederick Exley and was notorious for servicing young up and coming male writers under the pool table at Yaddo But it is also a poingant portrait of a brilliant mind hobbled by the fear of not being accepted Even if you re not as enad of the Wapshots as I, this is an engaging, moving, and higly instructive read. This took me the entire summer picking it up, putting it down to read Mainly because my capacity for vicarious depression is not as large as it once was I have too many things to say about this, and not enough time to say them So I ll boil it down it s absolutely amazing that such big hearted fiction was written by a man who spent so much of his life feeling sad, guilty, and fraudulent But without those feelings would there have been such a lifeblood of pathos in the work I m pretty sure the drinking didn t help his writing it almost killed him, for one thing , but the sense of living a double lifemaybe that was key to the equation If you can possibly find the time, I would recommend reading the short stories along with this, checking out each story as it s mentioned in the biography It makes for a fascinating intersection of life and art The way he chose to alter events from his own life to turn them into the stuff of fiction is a glimpse of process that any writer will geek out on His instincts in this area were second to none. Things I didn t know about John Cheever before reading this biography He was raised in poverty, after his merchant class father lost everything in the Depression He was expelled from high school before graduating and never went to college He published his first piece of writing as a teenager in The New Republic It was called Expelled, and it ripped apart the school that had kicked him out He was short 5 5 as a full grown adult After high school he lived in Boston with his older brother, who supported him, and who was, in some fashion, his lover After that he lived a down and out life in the Village in New York a young writer charming his way into friendships with literary greats like ee cummings always without money During those years, he was so broke he fainted on the streets of Manhattan from hunger.Bailey s book is called Cheever A Life, but what struck me most strongly about this biography was how many lives Cheever lived How did he get from this lowly desperation to the pinnacle of success he achieved before he died his literary novels and short story collections on bestseller lists, his face on the cover of Time and Newsweek, the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize and an honorary degree from Harvard, famous even in the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War The answer is one page at a time Cheever never didn t write He wrote every day it was his job As a young married man, he lived in a New York City apartment building, and every morning would put on a suit, ride the elevator with other men going to work in suits, but take that elevator all the way to the basement There, in a small room, he d put the suit on a hanger and sit down at his typewriter He found early patrons who published him, supported him, even housed and fed him He got by as much on charm as talent His impish smile and self mocking giggle disarmed people his artistic intelligence kept them near and made them want to help His difficult origins makes for the most gripping part of Cheever s story Once he begins to achieve success, he reinvents himself by rejecting and hiding where he came from, and he becomes in these pages difficult to root for Famously there was the public Cheever, cheerful scion of suburbia, married with children and dogs, and writing about that world for The New Yorker a life that lay like a thick blanket atop the private Cheever, who suffered daily and deeply over his largely unexpressed homosexual desires, who felt like a friendless imposter in his social milieu and spent decades getting increasingly, near fatally drunk We know this because he d instructed his children to oversee the publication of his journals, which he kept for decades and which held nothing back One question that bubbles under the surface is whether his tight lipped wife, Mary, ever peeked at those journals They were married for four decades Is it possible she had no inkling of her husband s heart and mind Biographers expose, and even in the best written biographies, subjects can be overwhelmed by the ugly details Cheever was a supremely gifted writer and a supremely difficult person It s exhausting to witness decades of his self abuse and downright depressing to learn of the emotional cruelty inflicted upon his wife and children He had a strong libido and a stronger sense of shame about it this book is a case study for internalized homophobia and erotophobia in general At the end of his life, miraculously sober thanks to rehab and AA, he allowed himself to act upon his queer desire regularly, but he did so in the most exploitative way, as he pressured a younger writer into a relationship in exchange for publishing favors.Would I recommend this book I can hardly fault the biographer for doing a thorough job, and Bailey is a powerful and readable chronicler who deserves 5 star praise But in the end I wished I could unsee what I d been shown Instead I would recommend without reservation The Stories of John Cheever, which showcases the best of his work, including The Swimmer, Goodbye My Brother, The Country Husband, The Death of Justina, and so many I would recommend Falconer, his novel of a middle class addict who winds up in prison where he finds passion with another male inmate Read his fiction accessible, inventive, humorous, upsetting, challenging, original, masterful without the taint of the troubled mind behind the stories The stories are what s important The author s life or lives mostly get in the way. Cheever A Life Audio CD by Blake BaileyAdded 4 20 11.GR description Blake Bailey s biography focuses on the gaping disparity between Cheever s proud Yankee social persona and his lifelong inner turmoil READ SAMPLE OF THIS BOOK HERE Cheever won the 1979 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for The Stories of John Cheever, a compilation of his short stories Read a sample of these short stories here am currently listening to an audio version of this book.I finally finished listening to Cheever A Life There were about 22 discs to the CD album It was very compelling I was amazed at the frankness of the biography, especially Cheever s sexual escapades It was also interesting to get an inside view of the world of a writer and the publishing world as well.Goodreads member Patrick King wrote the following in his review Taking insight from the subject s friends, family, works, and formidable journal archives, Bailey provides a year by year account of one of contemporary America s most vital and tortured literary personalities FROM much searching online for a video of John Cheever being interviewed, I finally found one The video shows Dick Cavett interviewing both John Cheever and John Updike in 1981 It can be seen at the link below title of the page is A Last Look at Updike and Cheever.PS I just realized that back in 2009, I posted a GR topic about this book at the following link to a sample of Harold Bloom s study guide which contains information about Cheever Although this is just sample, it contains a good deal of info re Cheever and his work PPPS Below is a link to the NY Times review of this book on 3 12 09 Most critics felt that Blake Bailey s book was an admirable work of scholarship and approved of his task of encouraging people to read Cheever again But they disagreed about the extent to which Cheever succeeds as a literary biography A few reviewers thought that Bailey had done an incomparable job of integrating the details of the man s life with his work Others, however, opined that the book s exhaustive detail gives readers almost no insight into Cheever the author Most assessments were balanced, noting that while Bailey s research was very thorough, the reason we re ultimately interested in this man is due to his fiction, not his failings.This is an excerpt from a review published in Bookmarks magazine. Somewhat dryly and harshly written the author doesn t seem that much charmed by Cheever s prose or his personality, which are both luminous But this is definitely the definitive biography it makes Donaldson s fairly substantive earlier book look like a puff piece It includes new, lengthy interviews with family members, careful chronological tracings of stories beginning and blooming complete with unpublished working notes altho the whole book is rather sadly lacking in literary critical analysis, like most modern biographies of writers , and Bailey claims he is one of the few under ten people to have read through the entire 45,000 plus page long journal Cheever compulsively kept all his life When Cheever is off estimating the arrival of Ezekiel Cheever, the first Cheever in America, by three years or so, the biographer corrects him immediately in a footnote, prefaced with a dry For what it s worth this odd so what tone is sounded frequently throughout the immense narrative if Fair enough is dourly repeated after a piece of quoted dubious testimony once, it appears over half a dozen times This book reminded me very much of Hilary Spurling s biography of Paul Scott It was a little hard to love either writer afterwards, especially given the hell they put their wives and children through in their misguided, unswervable attempts to conform to what is nowadays called a heteronormative lifestyle And yet after the flesh has ebbed the words remain, and those words are the reasons books like these setting out all those personal flaws and failings are written, after all. {Download} í Cheever: A Life ⚣ John Cheever Spent Much Of His Career Impersonating A Perfect Suburban Gentleman, The Better To Become One Of The Foremost Chroniclers Of Postwar America Written With Unprecedented Access To Essential Sources Including Cheever S Massive Journal, Only A Fraction Of Which Has Ever Been Published Bailey S Cheever Is A Stunning Example Of The Biographer S Art And A Brilliant Tribute To An Essential Author Since the hardcover s too much of a brick to bring on a train commute, I decided to take a few months to read Cheever from home, wanting to feel as if I were checking in on a life from time to time Having had unprecedented access to Cheever s colossal journals, Bailey gives Cheever s underrated, brilliant body of work the celebration it deserves if you haven t checked out his stories, do so immediately , while importantly sparing no detail about the man s tortured personal life bisexuality, self loathing, rocky marriage, not to mention his complex relationships to his literary peers Salinger, Bellow, Updike, etc , his crippling alcoholism, and the fame that he craved, finally bestowed on him in the last years of his life This is a really compassionate portrait of a man who, despite his suspicions that he was an impostor, wanted only to write about the intrinsic largeness of the human spirit.