THE LETTERS OF JOHN CHEEVER by Benjamin--Ed. Cheever

THE LETTERS OF JOHN CHEEVER

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Cheever's son, Benjamin, edits his father's correspondence as an act of reconciliation--he here comes to terms with the disturbing facts of the fiction writer's secret life as a bisexual adulterer, a hidden self much at odds with the values celebrated in Cheerer's best work. The truth of the matter is even more surprising: Cheever's letters, here padded with excerpts from his fiction and journals, are mostly dull, seldom more than a page long, and distinctly unliterary. Especially during his early years as a writer, Cheever displays little more than his appreciation of his mentor Malcolm Cowley; his fondness for fellow Yaddo denizen, Josephine Herbst; and his difficulties with editors and publishers. Once Cheever begins his family, and, in particular when they move to West-chester, his letters take on a certain charm--that of a doting father, amused by the details of domestic life. Even in his most mundane letters to friends, Cheever displays his strongest virtues--a self-deprecating wit, and a genuine sense of modesty. But it's not until the 60's, an era of sexual candor, that Cheerer's other self erges. Letters that outline his bisexual past, and love letters to young male protÉgÉs will no doubt draw much attention since they support the comment (quoted here) of his mistress, Hope Lange: ""he was one of the horniest men I've ever known."" Beyond titillation, readers will find in the later letters some amusing literary gossip (about Brendan Behan, Saul Bellow, and Harold Brodkey, among others) and the most sustained critical insight, drawn out by his badgering correspondent, Frederick Exley. There are other pleasures here, but they're often overwhelmed by Benjamin Cheerer's chatty commentary, repetitive annotations, and at times inept prose. Taken with sister Susan's salacious memoir, this bungled volume by her brother makes you wonder--with kids like these, who needs enemies?

Pub Date: Nov. 30th, 1988
ISBN: 1439164649
Publisher: Simon & Schuster