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Sour Plums

John Lanchester

26 October 1989
The Letters of John Cheever 
edited by Benjamin Cheever.
Cape, 397 pp., £14.95, September 1989, 0 224 02689 5
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Mary McCarthy 
by Carol Gelderman.
Sidgwick, 430 pp., £12.95, March 1989, 0 283 99797 4
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The company she keeps 
by Mary McCarthy.
Weidenfeld, 246 pp., £4.50, October 1989, 0 297 79649 6
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... In 1964, Time published a profile of John Cheever which, in a sub-heading, described him as ‘The Monogamist’. Subsequent events have proved that not to have been the fact-checkers’ finest hour. In 1984, two years after his death, Susan Cheever published Home before Dark, a memoir which portrayed her father, whose public image was that of an impeccably upper-middle-class monogamist suburban WASP, as a promiscuously bisexual alcoholic ...
9 January 1992
John CheeverThe Journals 
Cape, 399 pp., £16.99, November 1991, 0 224 03244 5Show More
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... on lavatory walls. This seems to be the message of ‘Mene, Mene, Tekel, Up-harsin’, one of John Cheever’s loopy, luminescent, triumphant later stories. The narrator, returning to America after a long absence, enters a stall in the men’s room at Grand Central Station, and there, etched into the marble partition (‘it might have been a giallo ...

Water Music

Allon White

2 September 1982
Oh what a paradise it seems 
by John Cheever.
Cape, 99 pp., £5.50, July 1982, 0 224 02930 4
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Collected Short Stories 
by John Cheever.
Penguin, 704 pp., £4.95, March 1982, 0 14 005575 4
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So long a Letter 
by Mariama Bâ, translated by Modupé Bodé-Thomas.
Virago, £5.50, August 1982, 0 86068 295 1
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A joke goes a long way in the country 
by Alannah Hopkin.
Hamish Hamilton, 157 pp., £7.95, July 1982, 0 241 10798 9
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... One time in four, and usually to everyone’s surprise, John Cheever’s heroes spring a wry and furtive victory over disappointment. Cheever is irresistible in describing those delicious moments of triumph when a dogged loser suddenly strikes a home run – like Farragut’s escape from the penitentiary at the end of Falconer ...
7 February 1980
The Wapshot Chronicle 
by John Cheever.
Harper and Row, 549 pp., £6.95, November 1980, 0 06 337007 7
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Florence Avenue 
by Elizabeth North.
Gollancz, 158 pp., £4.95, October 1980, 0 575 02680 4
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McKay’s Bees 
by Thomas McMahon.
Constable, 198 pp., £4.95, November 1980, 0 09 463120 4
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The Siesta 
by Patrice Chaplin.
Duckworth, 174 pp., £5.95, November 1980, 0 7156 1459 2
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... John Cheever’s two celebrated novels, The Wapshot Chronicle and The Wapshot Scandal, are now reissued in one volume. In this form, we can see that the two are really one and the end was always implied in the beginning. We are often told that the American novel is not very deeply rooted in the social world, that in a society so fluid and so quickly changing fiction hardly has time to take stock of the way things actually work and tends to blow up into some kind of surreal fantasy ...

Fairyland

Bruce Bawer

2 May 1985
Invented Lives: F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald 
by James Mellow.
Souvenir, 569 pp., £15.95, February 1985, 0 285 65001 7
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Home before Dark: A Personal Memoir of John Cheever 
by Susan Cheever.
Weidenfeld, 243 pp., £10.95, January 1985, 0 297 78376 9
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... letters, screenplays, notebooks and minor stories, but written Brobdingnagian lives of John O’Hara and James Gould Cozzens), produced a sloppy, simple-minded, adoring doorstop of a biography entitled Some Sort of Epic Grandeur. André Le Vot, a French scholar, followed in 1983 with a graceful English translation of his stately, sensitive and ...

My God, the Suburbs!

Colm Tóibín: John Cheever

5 November 2009
CheeverA Life 
by Blake Bailey.
Picador, 770 pp., £25, November 2009, 978 0 330 43790 5
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... One of John Cheever’s most famous stories is called ‘The Swimmer’. It is set, like much of his fiction, in the lawned suburbs somewhere outside New York City, and it is filled, like most of his fiction, with despair. The hero, Neddy Merrill, the father of four daughters, is sitting by a neighbour’s pool drinking gin when the idea comes to him that he might reach home by doing a lap of all of his neighbours’ pools on the way ...

Lincoln, Illinois

William Fiennes

6 March 1997
All the Days and Nights: The Collected Stories 
by William Maxwell.
Harvill, 415 pp., £10.99, January 1997, 1 86046 308 8
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So Long, See You Tomorrow 
by William Maxwell.
Harvill, 135 pp., £8.99, January 1997, 9781860463075
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... forty years, as a fiction editor on the New Yorker, he advised and goaded Nabokov, Eudora Welty, John Cheever and John Updike. Now, at nearly ninety, Maxwell’s face has a prairie gauntness, as if hollowed out by exposure to those bracing talents. But in Britain his name is almost unknown. He was born in 1908 in ...

Little Lame Balloonman

August Kleinzahler: E.E. Cummings

8 October 2014
E.E. Cummings: The Complete Poems, 1904-62 
edited by George James Firmage.
Liveright, 1102 pp., £36, September 2013, 978 0 87140 710 8
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E.E. Cummings: A Life 
by Susan Cheever.
Pantheon, 209 pp., £16, February 2014, 978 0 307 37997 9
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... she’d given him. One evening in 1958 he turned up at the private girls’ school that Susan Cheever attended in Dobbs Ferry, about an hour’s drive up the Hudson from New York City. Her father, John Cheever, drove her to the school. ‘Joey!’ Cummings shouted when he spotted ...

Caretaker/Pallbearer

James Wolcott: Updike should stay at home

1 January 2009
The Widows of Eastwick 
by John Updike.
Hamish Hamilton, 308 pp., £18.99, October 2008, 978 0 241 14427 5
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... John Updike’s unfailing geniality and fluent industry appear to get on a fair number of nerves, of which he’s slyly aware. (Is there anything he isn’t slyly aware of? That foxy grin conceals volumes.) When Updike was but a sprig, apprenticing at the New Yorker and carving out a little piece of Pennsylvania as his literary duchy, his gleaming facility was found suspect by some detractors, its satin finish the imposture of a fair-haired boy out to impress his elders with the fine flick of his exquisite perceptions and deflective modesty ...

You, Him, Whoever

Philip Connors: Anthony Giardina’s new novel

7 September 2006
White Guys 
by Anthony Giardina.
Heinemann, 371 pp., £11.99, August 2006, 0 434 01605 5
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... so he acquaints himself with this ‘testicular view’. One story in particular strikes him: John Cheever’s ‘The Country Husband’. The force of it disorients him, he realises, because in twenty sad, brilliant pages it demolishes the allure of the things for which he most longs: ‘husbandhood and fatherhood and a certain kind of woman who ...

Was he? Had he?

Corey Robin: In the Name of Security

19 October 2006
The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government 
by David Johnson.
Chicago, 277 pp., £13, May 2006, 0 226 40190 1
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Terrorism and the Constitution: Sacrificing Civil Liberties in the Name of National Security 
by David Cole and James Dempsey.
New Press, 320 pp., £10.99, March 2006, 1 56584 939 6
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General Ashcroft: Attorney at War 
by Nancy Baker.
Kansas, 320 pp., £26.50, April 2006, 0 7006 1455 9
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State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration 
by James Risen.
Free Press, 240 pp., £18.99, January 2006, 0 7432 7578 0
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Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush 
by Eric Boehlert.
Free Press, 352 pp., $25, May 2006, 0 7432 8931 5
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... According to John Cheever, 1948 was ‘the year everybody in the United States was worried about homosexuality’. And nobody was more worried than the federal government, which was rumoured to be teeming with gays and lesbians. One might think that Washington’s attentions would have been focused elsewhere – on the Soviet Union, for example, or on Communist spies – but in 1950, President Truman’s advisers warned him that ‘the country is more concerned about the charges of homosexuals in the government than about Communists ...

Just like Mother

Theo Tait: Richard Yates

6 February 2003
Collected Stories 
by Richard Yates.
Methuen, 474 pp., £17.99, January 2002, 0 413 77125 3
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Revolutionary Road 
by Richard Yates.
Methuen, 346 pp., £6.99, February 2001, 0 413 75710 2
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The Easter Parade 
by Richard Yates.
Methuen, 226 pp., £10, January 2003, 0 413 77202 0
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... many of these powerful stories justify the comparisons made by his admirers: most pertinently, to John Cheever and Raymond Carver (Yates falls somewhere in between). But when Yates’s stories are encountered en masse – this new edition brings together his two collections and nine previously uncollected pieces – the uniformity of experience described ...
24 August 1995
Independence Day 
by Richard Ford.
Harvill, 451 pp., £14.99, July 1995, 1 86046 020 8
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... or Frankly. If anything of Hemingway survives into this phase of Ford’s writing it is what John Cheever (himself an influence) claimed you could sniff in all of Hemingway’s work: the smell of loneliness. Ford had always been a writer with a message, in the sense that there was always a mood, a resolution, his fiction was drawn towards; he wanted ...

At the Met

Michael Hofmann: Beckmann in New York

16 February 2017
... gnomically (but it’s the truth), ‘Beckmann was time.’ He was successful early, painting John Martin-like catastrophes on a huge scale: visionary, awful, sandy things. The first monograph on him appeared before the First World War, when he was still in his twenties. In the war, he was an ambulance man on the Western Front, before suffering a complete ...
23 June 1994
... unit, set square to the prevailing on-shore winds. The occupier, New York-born to a childhood in John Cheever commuting country, now reinvented as a Vietnam-vintage Irish citizen, removes all the offending oil paintings from the wall: jewelled landscapes in oil; lively, naive renderings of the headland on which the cottages have been ...

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