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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 ...
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 antico, but ...

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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... 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, John Cheever, drove her to the school. ‘Joey!’ Cummings shouted when he spotted ...

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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... The fairies have spoiled all that.’ One does not think immediately of Scott Fitzgerald and John Cheever as having much in common, but the more closely one scrutinises the lives and works of these two writers, the more alike they look. Like Fitzgerald, Cheever watched his father fail in business, saw his family come down ...

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 ...

Good Girl, Bad Girl

Elaine Showalter, 5 June 1997

Feminist Accused of Sexual Harassment 
by Jane Gallop.
Duke, 104 pp., £28.50, June 1997, 0 8223 1918 7
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A Life in School: What the Teacher Learned 
by Jane Tompkins.
Addison-Wesley, 256 pp., $22, January 1997, 0 201 91212 0
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Bequest and Betrayal: Memoirs of a Parent’s Death 
by Nancy Miller.
Oxford, 208 pp., £19.50, February 1997, 0 19 509130 2
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... literary analysis of memoirists – among them, Beauvoir, Barthes, Philip Roth, Carolyn Steedman, Susan Cheever, Art Spiegelman and Blake Morrison. But she is primarily concerned with the childless child. ‘What happens to our idea of self,’ Miller asks in her prologue, ‘when there is no generation to follow, when we are childless? What happens to ...

Nasty Lucky Genes

Andrew O’Hagan: Fathers and Sons, 21 September 2006

The Arms of the Infinite 
by Christopher Barker.
Pomona, 329 pp., £9.99, August 2006, 1 904590 04 7
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... between two temperaments, two consciences and almost two epochs,’ Father and Son begins.) Susan Cheever says she once had another title for her memoir, Treetops; it was ‘Three Great Men and the Women They Destroyed’. Yet the first book she wrote about her father, Home before Dark, left her reeling at the variety of her discoveries. ‘I ...

Let Them Be Sea-Captains

Megan Marshall: Margaret Fuller, 15 November 2007

Margaret Fuller: An American Romantic Life: The Public Years 
by Charles Capper.
Oxford, 649 pp., £23.99, June 2007, 978 0 19 506313 4
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... two great ‘thinking Americans’, as Fuller hoped they would be remembered.A recent book by Susan Cheever, American Bloomsbury, makes much of the erotic undercurrents that no doubt played their part in the Concord circle; besides Emerson, Fuller and Thoreau, the band of free-thinking rustics included Nathaniel Hawthorne and his artist wife, Sophia ...

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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... honouring creation and the American plenty. He was the ideal son of a platonic union between John Cheever and J.D. Salinger, with Nabokov attending the christening as fairy godfather. Apparent lack of inner struggle and purring efficiency made it possible to take him for granted. ‘No one has ever sat around worrying about Updike, the way one apparently ...

What’s wrong with that man?

Christian Lorentzen: Donald Antrim, 20 November 2014

The Emerald Light in the Air: Stories 
by Donald Antrim.
Granta, 158 pp., £12.99, November 2014, 978 1 84708 649 5
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... has become John O’Hara with a cell phone. No, a disciple of Barthelme conquers the territory of Cheever and Updike – it’s stunning. ‘Another Manhattan’, from 2008, the longest and most wrenching of these pieces, begins as if it’s going to be a simple farce or melodrama of adultery. Jim is married to Kate, who’s sleeping with Elliot, who’s ...

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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... 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 begins to ...

Four in a Bed

Wendy Doniger, 8 February 1996

Vice Versa: Bisexuality and the Eroticism of Everyday Life 
by Marjorie Garber.
Hamish Hamilton, 608 pp., £25, January 1996, 9780241134481
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... Kate Bornstein’s image of gender as a matter of personal choice from a constantly revolving lazy-Susan – I would have said a lazy-Sam-and-Susan – of sexual orientations.) This polymorphous permissiveness, with barriers dropping as fast as knickers, is precisely what inspires most people’s resistance to ...

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