Home Before Dark Critical Essays

Susan Cheever

Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction Home Before Dark Analysis

Home Before Dark grew out of the journal that Susan Cheever began to keep as soon as she learned that her father’s cancer would prove fatal. Writing was her way of coping and of keeping her father alive; not surprisingly, it released a flood of memories. Recasting that journal in the form of this published memoir became her method of discovering her father, of understanding who he was. The discovery process was in her case made all the more difficult by the very methods that Cheever had devised over the years for protecting his fragile sense of self-esteem, including the fictionalizing of facts. Susan Cheever’s memoir does more than reveal a different, deeper John Cheever than the one that his readers thought they knew from his fiction and from the relatively few interviews that Cheever gave before 1977. Perhaps even more important, the book offers one daughter’s often eloquent testimony of what virtually all children know even if they never acknowledge it: Despite all the physical and emotional intimacy of the parent-child relationship, children know only partial versions of their parents. Susan and John Cheever present only a more pronounced and, because of the latter’s literary reputation, a more noteworthy instance of this general rule. Coming to know and understand Cheever was difficult, but no less so than loving a man who had honed the edge of his self-protective skills to such a degree that the dinner table became “a shark tank” and who even on his deathbed managed to gather sufficient strength to wound his daughter one final time with two of his most formidable weapons: sarcasm and self-pity.

Susan Cheever clearly and justly admires her father’s fiction, but, even though an accomplished novelist in her own right, she sensibly leaves both praise and critical analysis of his works to others. Discussions of his long relationship with The New Yorker magazine, his efforts to write and find a publisher for his first novel, The Wapshot Chronicle (1957), his reaction to reviews, and his writing habits play a relatively small part in Home Before Dark and are discussed chiefly as...

(The entire section is 876 words.)