Superb work that shows Cheever wrestling with dark angels, but wresting from those encounters some celestial prose.

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CHEEVER

A LIFE

A comprehensive treatment of the tormented but artful life of one of fiction’s modern masters.

Bailey (A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates, 2004, etc.) plunges deeply into the murky, sometimes fetid stew of John Cheever’s life (1912–82). Beginning with his 1982 appearance at Carnegie Hall to receive the National Medal for Literature (more details appear some 650 pages later), the author proceeds in chronological fashion to tell the story of a deeply needy, difficult man. Born into money that soon vanished, Cheever never graduated from high school. Yet he earned some of the country’s most prestigious literary awards, in recognition of his brilliant short stories (more than 100 published in the New Yorker alone) and critically esteemed novels (especially Falconer, 1977). Despite all this acclaim, as Bailey shows in agonizing detail, Cheever’s demons were destructive, even deadly. He smoked heavily and drank steadily, though he finally gave up both a few years before cancer killed him. He had unhappy, even bitter, relations with his wife and three children, and maintained uneasy, tense literary friendships with, among others, Bellow and Updike. Most seriously, argues Bailey, he could never accept his bisexuality. Always attracted to men—an attraction he indulged more frequently, albeit always covertly, as he aged—he nonetheless pursued a variety of women, from Hollywood’s Hope Lange to students in his classes. (He taught creative writing at several places, including the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.) Cheever could be rude, snide, petty, selfish, jealous, vindictive, depressed, savage, pretentious and embarrassing. He made sexual advances to startled friends and dropped his pants at alarming moments. He was often, pathetically, a dipsomaniacal mess. But, oh, those sentences and stories! Bailey pauses continually to examine a tale or a novel, never in an obtrusive or esoteric way, and notes how his works today sell little—though two Library of America volumes are forthcoming (both edited by Bailey).

Superb work that shows Cheever wrestling with dark angels, but wresting from those encounters some celestial prose.

Pub Date: March 12, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4000-4394-1

Page Count: 736

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2008

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

THE 48 LAWS OF POWER

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...

NIGHT

Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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