HOME BEFORE DARK by Susan Cheever
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HOME BEFORE DARK

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KIRKUS REVIEW

John Cheever remembered (and somewhat cruelly exposed) by his novelist-daughter Susan (Looking for Work, The Cage)--through family stories, her own recollections, and excerpts from the late storyteller's never-published journals. Cheever's leisurely, musing narrative moves semi-chronologically through her father's life, with flash-forwards to stray family moments, to the months of his final illness. With help from some cousins, she focuses on John's ""sense of being an exile"": his family's 1920s fall from wealth, ambivalence about ""respectability,"" his flight from higher education. (""The Cheerers are very good at walking out."") She follows him to N.Y. in the 1930s: the long struggle for a steady income from stories, the pressure to produce that first novel, money-wrangles with The New Yorker. (""Truax, my father said, anxiously offered him bonuses: the key to the men's room and all the bread and cheese he could eat."") But, with the 1950s, the emphasis turns more and more to the domestic Cheever--as husband, alcoholis, dour self-deprecator (""We used to call him Eeyore""), guilt-ridden philanderer, and even more guilt-ridden, secret homosexual. As for his long, often-miserable marriage to Mary, ""maybe it was habit that kept them together, maybe it was perversity, maybe it was love--a kind of love so different from what we mean by love these days that there should be another word."" (More intriguing: the up-and-down relationship between John and his father-in-law, Yale Medical School dean M.C. Winternitz.) His unhidden affairs included one with actress Hope Lange. But ""his lust for men was as distressing to him as his desire for women was self-affirming""--and he desperately hid his liaisons with younger men behind the image of ""a patrician, old-fashioned country gentleman."" In fact, while obsessed with appearances, ""the last twenty years of my father's life were spent in a struggle to escape the trappings and traps he had so carefully constructed for himself""--marriage, house, family, success, reputation. And, even after 1970s illnesses pushed Cheever to give up drink, pills, and cigarettes, he remained lonely and tortured, soon destroyed (""so unfair, so arbitrary and cruel"") by cancer. A sad portrait-with-family, then, neither insightful nor well-written enough to be powerful or affecting--but sure to attract an audience with the mixture of anecdote, nostalgia, and revelation.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1984
ISBN: 0671028502
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin