Monday, March 14, 2011
"The Stories Of John Cheever"
I have finally finished the very long and detailed book "Cheever a Life" by Blake Bailey. Phew! 770 pages of elegantly written literary history about a man that was as talented as he was tortured. I loved this book and the man it attempted to make me understand, but like the book itself Cheever was difficult and complicated, but in the end brilliant. Bailey details the dismal poverty John Cheever was born into, his dysfunctional family and marriage, and his covert homosexuality. He lived a fascinating life full of travel, literary rivalry and alcohol fueled depression. He had complicated relationships with almost everyone around him, editors, young writers (whom he bullied into giving him sexual favors), and sadly his own children. Despite Bailey's in depth account I didn't really get a true sense of Cheevers actual writing, his craft, his story telling. There were short passages quoted and analyzed, but I finished this book not really understanding why he was such a big deal. I then picked up a copy of "The Stories of John Cheever" and after just one page, truly after just one paragraph, I got it. He understood people and their flaws. Flaws that made them unique and flaws that made them exactly like everyone else. He wrote knowingly about the human condition, how men and women inhabit their lives, marriages, jobs and social circles. He revealed each person as an individual and as a cog in a tragically predictable world. He wrote of lonely men and disappointed housewives, of idleness and toil. He conveyed mood and desperation better then anything I have ever read. These are the stomping grounds of the original "Mad Men". He gave the people he wrote about real lives however mundane, and could end a story abruptly with a crazy tragic twist that sometimes didn't seem to fit, but you could hardly mind because you were taken there with such beautiful melancholy ease. After 770 pages dedicated to unraveling the complicated life of this very complicated man, I finally began to better understand John Cheever through his own superior words.