Bailey, Blake Cheever: A Life

ISBN 13: 9781400043941

Cheever: A Life

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9781400043941: Cheever: A Life

From the acclaimed author of A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates comes the unforgettable life of John Cheever (1912–1982), a man who spent much of his career impersonating a perfect suburban gentleman, the better to become one of the foremost chroniclers of postwar America. “I was born into no true class,” Cheever mused in his journal, “and it was my decision, early in life, to insinuate myself into the middle class, like a spy, so that I would have an advantageous position of attack, but I seem now and then to have forgotten my mission and to have taken my disguises too seriously.” Written with unprecedented access to essential sources—including Cheever’s massive journal, only a fraction of which has ever been published—Blake Bailey’s biography reveals the troubled but strangely lovable man behind the disguises, an artist who delighted in the everyday radiance of the world while yearning, above all, “to be illustrious.”

Cheever’s was a soul in conflict: he was a proud Yankee who flaunted his lineage while deploring the provincialism of his Quincy, Massachusetts, family circle; a high-school dropout who published his first story at eighteen; a pioneer of suburban realist fiction who continually pushed the boundaries of realism; a dire alcoholic who recovered to write the great novel Falconer; a secret bisexual who struggled with his longings and his fierce homophobia in a revolving door of self-loathing and hedonism. We see a man who concealed his anxieties behind the mask of a genial Westchester squire—a paterfamilias in Brooks Brothers clothes whose world was peopled by legendary writers and beautiful women (Malcolm Cowley, Saul Bellow, William Maxwell, Hope Lange, and John Updike, among them); whose groundbreaking work landed him on the covers of Time and Newsweek; a man whose demons and desperation were never quite vanquished by the joy he found in his work.

Blake Bailey has written a luminous biography, a revelation of a writer of timeless fiction and of the man behind the page.

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Review:

Amazon Best of the Month, March 2009: In Blake Bailey's monumental, masterful, and, at nearly 800 pages, mammoth biography, Cheever: A Life, the author of A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates turns his attention to the "the Chekhov of the suburbs" and his storied, celebrated, and deeply tortured life. Written with compassion and the full cooperation of Cheever's widow, Mary, and their three children, Cheever is rich with detail and chronicles the mournful arc of a lifetime struggling with a core duplicity that ached throughout his writing life--despite a 41-year marriage, Cheever was a closeted bisexual who simmered with self-loathing. Bailey covers the author's childhood, his time in the army, his life as a writer and his literary rivals (Salinger, in particular, seemed to irritate him), his alcoholism (he would struggle against taking that first "scoop" of gin from the pantry every morning while he was writing), and his struggle to play the role of suburban family man. The book is peppered with literary cameos: Updike, Bellow, and Roth are there, along with his Iowa Writers' Workshop students T.C. Boyle, Ron Hansen, and Allan Gurganus. (While at Iowa Cheever made it a weekly ritual to watch Monday Night Football and eat homemade pasta with fellow instructor John Irving.) Bailey also edited two Library of America editions of Cheever's stories and novels published to coincide with his biography. This literary hat trick will no doubt spark a well-deserved Cheever renaissance honoring his legacy as an American master. --Brad Thomas Parsons

About the Author:

Blake Bailey is the editor of a two-volume edition of Cheever’s work, published in 2009 by The Library of America. His last book, A Tragic Honesty, was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He received a Guggenheim fellowship in 2005, and his articles and reviews have appeared in Slate, The New York Times, the New York Observer, and elsewhere. He lives in Virginia with his wife and daughter.

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Bailey, Blake
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Book Description Knopf, 2009. Book Condition: New. Brand New, Unread Copy in Perfect Condition. A+ Customer Service! Summary: "Stunningly detailed.so wise and serious, so human an account.both arresting and disturbing.Even more eloquent and resourceful than Bailey's celebrated biography of Richard Yates. [Bailey] seems to me as good an interpreter of Cheever's stories and novels as I have read.His sketches of dozens of characters who were touched by Cheever are short stories in themselves, and he sometimes bores right to the center of complex relationships, revealing their essence in a sentence."Geoffrey Wolff,The New York Times Book Review "Fascinating.Mr. Bailey meticulously demonstrates that Cheever was an artist who worked from life.drawing on unprecedented access to Cheever's papers and family, Mr. Bailey approaches his subject like a concerned parole officer.countering both his subject's soaring enthusiasms and paranoid forebodings with clear-eyed judgment." David Propson,Wall Street Journal "A triumph of thorough research and unblinkered appraisal."John Updike,The New Yorker "Sympathetic and deeply engaging.Bailey dramatizes Cheever's resolute self-creation and its considerable psychic costs through the use of adroitly interwoven narrative strands.This book is also a portrait of the twentieth century." Jacob Molyneux,San Francisco Chronicle "Surely definitive.[Bailey] gets down his subject's humorous staying power, even in the midst of spiritual turmoil." William Pritchard,Boston Globe "Beautifully woven, deeply researched, and delightfully free of isms." Susan Salter Reynolds,Los Angeles Times "One of the best and most eloquent literary biographies I have ever read, and every inch the record that Cheever deserves. Bailey is loving, skeptical . but he is scrupulous, he understands the work and its profound merit, and he himself is a superb stylist . This combination of sparkling writing and stirring subject makes the long biography almost mesmerizing, and gives us remarkable access to one of the greatest writers of his time." Vince Passaro,O "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 . . . 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." Booklist(starred review) "A comprehensive treatment of the tormented but artful life of one of fiction's modern masters . . . Bailey plunges deeply into the murky, sometimes fetid stew of John Cheever's life. . . Superb work that shows Cheever wrestling with dark angels, but wresting from these encounters some celestial prose." Kirkus(starred review) "[An] always entertaining biography, composed with a novelist's eye . . . [Cheever] has probably yet to find a definitive position in American letters among academicians. This thoroughly researched and heartfelt biography may help redress the situation." Publishers Weekly "John Cheever was a shopkeeper's son and self-styled aristocrat, a bisexual suburban dad, a legendary drunk, and one of the greatest short story writers of all time. Blake Bailey's masterful and poignant biography reveals the connection between the tormented, perpetually disappointed man and the brilliant, intuitive artist who illuminated the terr. Bookseller Inventory # ABE_book_new_1400043948

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