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John Holbo - Editor
Scott Eric Kaufman - Editor
Aaron Bady
Adam Roberts
Amardeep Singh
Andrew Seal
Bill Benzon
Daniel Green
Jonathan Goodwin
Joseph Kugelmass
Lawrence LaRiviere White
Marc Bousquet
Matt Greenfield
Miriam Burstein
Ray Davis
Rohan Maitzen
Sean McCann
Guest Authors

Laura Carroll
Mark Bauerlein
Miriam Jones

Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

Event Archive

cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

Event Archive

cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

Event Archive

cover of the book How Novels Think

Event Archive

cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

Event Archive

cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

Event Archive

cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

Event Archive

The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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Sunday, May 03, 2009

BREAKING NEWS: John Cheever not remotely like a character in a John Cheever story, actually.

Posted by Scott Eric Kaufman on 05/03/09 at 03:35 PM

From “How Cheever Really Felt About Living in Suburbia,” published in today’s Times:

[His] writings suggest that he seemed to take a jaundiced view of so manicured and lovely a setting.

But there is evidence in a new biography of Cheever that he relished his life as a suburban burgher and did not disdain his fellow suburbanites as a class. Cheever was “crazy about the suburbs,” said Blake Bailey, whose book, Cheever: A Life, published in March by Knopf, was written with apparently unrivaled access to Cheever’s journals.

“He loved the natural beauty of the Hudson Valley,” Mr. Bailey said. “He loved walking through the woods along the Croton Aqueduct. He liked his neighbors.”

I’m not sure how someone can have “unrivaled” access to materials held by Harvard and The New York Public Library, but that’s neither here nor there.  This article—from the hard-hitting Connecticut desk—is a full-scale assault on the body of Cheever’s work by people who insist that, in truth, they were all quite normal, thank you very much.  Cheever himself was a conventionally quaint exurban alcoholic:

Mrs. Cheever casually took care to point out that her husband wrote only in the mornings because by the afternoon he was often drunk on gin.

“In those days, people did drink ever so much more than they do now,” Mrs. Cheever said with a chuckle. “It sounds shocking now, but it was not shocking then.”

Not to mention boyish and civic-minded:

“He once got to drive the fire truck, and that was a big thrill,” Mrs. Cheever said.

His family were old-fashioned:

“We were old-fashioned,” she said. “We were brought up in private schools.”

He was old-fashioned:

“He was that old-fashioned,” she said.

He was utterly unlike a character in a John Cheever novel, except when he wasn’t:

Yet at the same time, Cheever could say in ["The Housebreaker of Shady Hill"], “If you work in the city and have children to raise, I can’t think of a better place.”

Note that “say” there.  Cheever didn’t write that sentence, because if he had, it’d be a sentence written about a character in a Cheever story and we can’t have that, now can we?  It would be inaccurate in the way all the unhappiness Cheever wrote is and will forever be inaccurate. 

How deeply pathetic is it that the Times tries to deny Cheever ownership of his insight by doing to him what he undid to his characters?  It was all very fine, the Times implies, like in that famous story of his that ends:

The place was dark. Was it so late that they had all gone to bed? Had Lucinda stayed at the Westerhazys’ for supper? Had the girls joined her there or gone someplace else? Hadn’t they agreed, as they usually did on Sunday, to regret all their invitations and stay at home? He tried the garage doors to see what cars were in but the doors were locked and rust came off the handles onto his hands. Going toward the house, he saw that the force of the thunderstorm had knocked one of the rain gutters loose. It hung down over the front door like an umbrella rib, but it could be fixed in the morning. The house was locked, and he thought that the stupid cook or the stupid maid must have locked the place up until he remembered that it had been some time since they had employed a maid or a cook. He shouted, pounded on the door, tried to force it with his shoulder, and then, looking in at the windows, saw that the place was empty.

Then everyone yelled, “Surprise, Neddy Merrill!  It is your birthday and the place looked empty because we cleared the room so we could dance!” Neddy’s daughters approached him, one after another, and planted a kiss on his cheek and a tie to his chest.  “I love these ties,” Neddy exclaimed.  Everyone at the party drank judiciously and no one died on the way home.  It was the best day of Neddy’s life.


Comments

This article—from the hard-hitting Connecticut desk—is a full-scale assault on the body of Cheever’s work by people who insist that, in truth, they were all quite normal, thank you very much.

Cheever lived in Connecticutt.  Why the hell shouldn’t the Connecticutt desk write about him?

This paragraph makes a good case that Cheever’s life in the suburbs wasn’t as bad as the life of Cheever’s characters in the suburbs:

Mrs. Cheever remembered, with some bitterness, that her husband wrote a story, “An Educated American Woman,” that seemed to be modeled on her, about a suburban wife so preoccupied with civic organizations and a book she is writing on Flaubert that the story ends tragically, with the woman’s son dying in the care of a neglectful babysitter. Mrs. Cheever, in tears, suggested she did not mind the echoes of her own life, but was upset that “he had the woman leave her sick child.”

Cheever is pretty clearly drama queening things up.  And, it worked.  He’s famous.  But, you can’t really be surprised that his negligent-homicide-free life in the suburbs was better than the lives of his characters in his stories.

By on 05/05/09 at 01:34 PM | Permanent link to this comment

Perhaps a minor niggle, but why don’t we define suburbs.  I find, “He loved the natural beauty of the Hudson Valley,” and “He loved walking through the woods along the Croton Aqueduct. He liked his neighbors” to be different than, “He loved trying to find parking at the strip mall off Rte. 193 when he went to Subway.” It’s not so hard to think Cheever was okay with the former.

By on 05/21/09 at 12:56 AM | Permanent link to this comment

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