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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 JohnCheever 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 ...
9 January 1992
John CheeverThe Journals 
Cape, 399 pp., £16.99, November 1991, 0 224 03244 5Show More
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... Journal-writing and diary-keeping are a kind of secret exhibitionism, the genteel equivalent of scrawling on lavatory walls. This seems to be the message of ‘Mene, Mene, Tekel, Up-harsin’, one of JohnCheever’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 ...

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, JohnCheever’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. Cheever’s ...
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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... JohnCheever’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 ...

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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... prolific modern American literary scholar (in the past decade or so, he has not only collected Fitzgerald’s 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 ...

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 JohnCheever’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 ...

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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... Institute of Arts and Letters. He has won the American Book Award and the PEN/Malamud Award. For forty years, as a fiction editor on the New Yorker, he advised and goaded Nabokov, Eudora Welty, JohnCheever 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 ...

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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... to supplement his meagre income: now that his mother was dead he no longer received the small stipend 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, JohnCheever, drove her to the school. ‘Joey!’ Cummings shouted when he spotted Cheever, whom he’d ...

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 ...

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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... Although no great reader, Timmy finds himself on the road, in motels, with nights full of empty time, so he acquaints himself with this ‘testicular view’. One story in particular strikes him: JohnCheever’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 ...

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 JohnCheever, 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 ...

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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... for the visceral immediacy of Yates’s writing, and for some of its limitations. Read in isolation, many of these powerful stories justify the comparisons made by his admirers: most pertinently, to JohnCheever 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 ...
24 August 1995
Independence Day 
by Richard Ford.
Harvill, 451 pp., £14.99, July 1995, 1 86046 020 8
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... writers have to fulfil – unfrill – for themselves. For Ford this was the discovery of writing frankly, or Frankly. If anything of Hemingway survives into this phase of Ford’s writing it is what JohnCheever (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 ...

At the Met

Michael Hofmann: Beckmann in New York

16 February 2017
... epoch of the artist as awkward little public client and university appendage. As someone noted, a little 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 ...
23 June 1994
... West Cork. The cottages have been extensively tampered with, knocked through, until they form a single unit, set square to the prevailing on-shore winds. The occupier, New York-born to a childhood in JohnCheever 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 ...

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