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by John Cheever

Pub Date: Oct. 9th, 1991
ISBN: 0307387259
Publisher: Knopf

New Yorker editor Robert Gottlieb, in consultation with the Cheever family, here adds to the six excerpts from Cheever's journals that originally ran in the magazine. Drawn from 29 loose- leaf notebooks, spanning 35 or so years, this selection represents a mere fraction (1/20 in Gottlieb's estimate) of Cheever's random writings. Fortunately, readers of these remarkable journals are spared the prose interludes (by Cheever's son, Ben) that so marred the selection from his letters a few years ago. This is Cheever as unadorned and self-revealing as we'll getand it's not just more confessions of alcoholism and bisexuality. As Ben suggests in his introduction, these journals serve in lieu of an autobiographythey document the inner life of an artist in a way few works ever have. Cheever proves himself a man of profound tensions: at once drowning in loneliness and warmed by his love for his family, craven in his sexual desire and elevated by genuine piety. These contradictions run through his aesthetic concerns as well: While he has decided to insinuate himself "like a spy" into middle-class suburbia, he fears having taken his "disguise too seriously." He delights in the mundane, and the journals glimmer with quotidian insight and observationthe beauty of nature, the joys of Westchester life. But these affirmations, many of them religious, must break through the despair, which is pervasive. Cheever agonizes over his familial past, his mother dying, his brother's alcoholism. He frets for his marriage, threatened by his constant lust. And he worries over his work, from the nuts and bolts of writing to its afterlife. In Rome, he escapes "the alcoholic life of a minor literary celebrity." In Ossining, he recognizes the progressive nature of his disease. Recovery comes, but so does the cancer that took his life in 1982, with the last entry here written days before his death. More so than his letters, these journals remind us that Cheever has earned his place among the modern masters.