Reviews for Cheever : A Life

Booklist Reviews 2008 November #1
*Starred Review* John Cheever is not widely read anymore. In his day during the 1950s and 1960s, his short stories appeared regularly in the New Yorker, and when his first novel, the long-labored-over Wapshot Chronicle, was published in 1957, he achieved recognition as one of the foremost American fiction writers. Now his stories, upon which his reputation had been based and several of which are universally regarded as masterpieces of the form, are no longer read even in college-level literature or creative-writing courses. Perhaps a Cheever renaissance of sorts will result from this magnificently understanding and understandable biography based on copious research and destined to be the definitive life treatment for many years to come. To hold up his life as a perfect example of that of the tortured artist would not be a mistake. Seen here, Cheever had troubled relationships with his family, which haunted him forever; wrestled with his abhorred homosexual tendencies all his adult life; and developed into a desperate alcoholic. His various therapists found him to be a narcissistic personality riddled with self-doubt, and from the detailed picture composed here, the reader can only concur. Riveting from page 1, this is the literary biography of the season and will be talked about for years to come; it will also, it is hoped, guide readers once again to his distinctive fiction, especially his short stories. Copyright Booklist Reviews 2008.

Choice Reviews 2009 August
Displaying empathy for Cheever (1912-82) as both man and artist, this is a biographical exploration of great depth. Also author of A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates (2003), Bailey begins this exploration of Cheever's life in the 1600s, with the Cheever family roots. What emerges is a fascinating portrait of one of contemporary literature's most compelling artists. Bailey has an uncanny ability to root out the truth while still presenting the popular legend. Navigating the seeming inconsistencies of a life lived in the limelight, he makes no attempt to conceal or gloss over Cheever's ills and discusses Cheever's alcoholism and his struggle with his own sexuality with grace and insight. Well researched and exquisitely written--Bailey writes nonfiction with the flair of a novelist--this biography will serve students interested in Cheever and in American letters more broadly. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Lower- and upper-division undergraduates; general readers. Copyright 2009 American Library Association.

Kirkus Reviews 2008 December #1
A comprehensive treatment of the tormented but artful life of one of fiction's modern masters.Bailey (A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates, 2004, etc.) plunges deeply into the murky, sometimes fetid stew of John Cheever's life (1912-82). Beginning with his 1982 appearance at Carnegie Hall to receive the National Medal for Literature (more details appear some 650 pages later), the author proceeds in chronological fashion to tell the story of a deeply needy, difficult man. Born into money that soon vanished, Cheever never graduated from high school. Yet he earned some of the country's most prestigious literary awards, in recognition of his brilliant short stories (more than 100 published in the New Yorker alone) and critically esteemed novels (especially Falconer, 1977). Despite all this acclaim, as Bailey shows in agonizing detail, Cheever's demons were destructive, even deadly. He smoked heavily and drank steadily, though he finally gave up both a few years before cancer killed him. He had unhappy, even bitter, relations with his wife and three children, and maintained uneasy, tense literary friendships with, among others, Bellow and Updike. Most seriously, argues Bailey, he could never accept his bisexuality. Always attracted to men--an attraction he indulged more frequently, albeit always covertly, as he aged--he nonetheless pursued a variety of women, from Hollywood's Hope Lange to students in his classes. (He taught creative writing at several places, including the Iowa Writers' Workshop.) Cheever could be rude, snide, petty, selfish, jealous, vindictive, depressed, savage, pretentious and embarrassing. He made sexual advances to startled friends and dropped his pants at alarming moments. He was often, pathetically, a dipsomaniacal mess. But, oh, those sentences and stories! Bailey pauses continually to examine a tale or a novel, never in an obtrusive or esoteric way, and notes how his works today sell little--though two Library of America volumes are forthcoming (both edited by Bailey).Superb work that shows Cheever wrestling with dark angels, but wresting from those encounters some celestial prose.First printing of 50,000. Author tour to Boston, Los Angeles, Miami, New York, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, D.C., Westchester, N.Y. Agent: David McCormick/McCormick & Williams Literary Agency Copyright Kirkus 2008 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

Library Journal Reviews 2008 November #1
Having edited a two-volume edition of Cheever's works, Bailey (A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates) is ready to take on the man himself. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

Library Journal Reviews 2009 March #1

Bailey, author of a biography of Richard Yates (A Tragic Honesty) and editor of the Library of America's John Cheever: Complete Novels and John Cheever: Collected Stories and Other Writings, presents a massively detailed biography of the man. Bailey had access to letters, journals, and other writings by the author as well as cooperation from Cheever's wife, children, and close friends and colleagues, which makes this biography more complete than Scott Donaldson's 1988 John Cheever. Bailey's portrait of Cheever as author, family man, lover, and public figure contains everything readers would want to know about this important figure in American literature. The biographer is sympathetic toward his subject but presents all sides of Cheever's complex character, including his alcoholism, bisexuality, fears, struggles, and often turbulent relationships with fellow writers and family. Bailey also provides close readings of all of Cheever's novels and many of his short stories. Highly recommended for all public and academic library collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/08.]--Morris Hounion, NYC Coll. of Technology Lib., CUNY

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2008 November #4

Rebellious Yankee son of a father who fell victim to the Depression and a doo-gooder-turned-businesswoman mother, father to three competitive children he rode mercilessly but adored, chronicler par excellence of the 1950s American suburban scene while deploring all forms of conformity: John Cheever (1912-1982) was a mass of contradictions. In this overlong but always entertaining biography, composed with a novelist's eye, Bailey, biographer of Richard Yates and editor of two volumes of Cheever's work for Library of America (also due in March), was given access to unpublished portions of Cheever's famous journals and to family members and friends. Bailey's book is fine in descriptions of Cheever's reactions to other writers, such as his adored Bellow and detested Salinger. Bailey is also sensitive in describing the prickly dynamic of Cheever's domestic life, lived through a haze of alcoholism and under the shadow of extramarital heterosexual and homosexual relationships. This "Ovid in Ossining," who published 121 stories in the New Yorker as well as several bestselling novels, has probably yet to find a definitive position in American letters among academicians. This thoroughly researched and heartfelt biography may help redress that situation. 24 pages of photos. (Mar. 12)

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