Cheever (American Bloomsbury, 2006, etc.) explores the vagaries of addiction and desire.
The author’s offspring suggested that she dedicate her slight meditation on sexual addiction “to my children who died of embarrassment.” In fact, the book is not so much a nitty-gritty tell-all as it is a series of free-form musings on what addiction is and why it affects people so powerfully. Cheever touches on her three marriages (to Robert Cowley, Calvin Tomkins and Warren Hinckle), her apparent difficulties in staying married and the various infidelities in which she and some friends engaged. But she touches equally on alcoholism, the other addiction with which she and several family members have struggled. Her father, novelist John Cheever, was also an alcoholic. Indeed, she suggests that the two may be related. In her biography of Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder Bill Wilson (My Name Is Bill, 2004), she briefly mentioned Wilson’s wandering eye, but here she speculates more freely as to whether he traded his alcohol addiction for another, equally intoxicating vice. Though married, Wilson was known for his inordinate fondness for other ladies. “When he was able to come up with the brilliant, inspired way of life that enabled him not to drink,” Cheever writes, “he used other substances.” She also reports that on his deathbed, Wilson requested whiskey three times. In the context of the rest of the book—wide-eyed and often self-indulgent musings about the physiology underlying longing and the insistent, blinding need that accompanies any addiction—it’s clear that the author intends this not as an indictment of Wilson, but as further evidence of the mysteries of desire. Unfortunately, for every genuine mystery Cheever asks us to consider, she provides a piece of careless, silly prose to accompany it.
Insightful and often engaging, but also aimless and occasionally trite.