Friday, December 28, 2012

Cheever: A Life. By Blake Bailey

I have read many of Cheever's short stories and I may have read a book or two as well - but am not sure about that. His stories are usually engaging and sometimes brilliant, but I did form the opinion that he was a misogynist. In his stories he always seems to be creating unsympathetic women, and men who are caught in their webs. I was curious about his own life. And it all became clear here.

He did have problems with women. He also had severe long-term problems with alcohol. He appeared to have been self-absorbed, selfish, often thoughtless. Yet many thought of him as kind and fun to be around as well.

He was hard-working but had trouble keeping the wolves from the door. Selling short stories, of course, is rarely if ever as lucrative as selling a novel. Thus he worked hard on the few books that he did write. It took him many years for the first one, and every one was very difficult for him. He excelled at writing the short stories but not so much at the novels. Some writers are just made to create the little jewels, which honestly would be enough in this case.

One theme that was in much of his work, if not always immediately apparent, was his frustration with his sexual orientation. He was bisexual but did not admit it, and even when having sex with another man he would not admit how many such affairs he'd had over the years. I suspect that he told the same lies to himself, to be fair. Learning about this part of him illuminates a great deal that may have seemed incomprehensible in his work. Certainly I am just as much an admirer as I was before. I never hold a writer's flaws or predilections against him.

I do hope that this biography is bringing a whole new set of readers to Cheever.

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