Form and Content
From its homey title (a parent’s admonition to a child) to its closing chapters describing John Cheever’s illness and death, Susan Cheever’s Home Before Dark demands and deserves to be read whole rather than dipped into for quick reference. Personal in tone but never sentimentally or intensely so, this biographical memoir has no index and does not approach Cheever’s life in strictly chronological fashion. Rather, its twenty-five brief chapters, while adhering to the general birth-to-death pattern of that life, seem more like memory clusters in which various biographical bits are drawn together, often leaping years between paragraphs to illuminate its subject in surprising ways. Reminiscence plays a vital part in the book, but reminiscence fleshed out and tempered by research.
John Cheever was from his youth a storyteller in a double sense. He made up stories to entertain his adult audience, and make his living, as he had fellow students at Thayer Academy (from which he was expelled when he was seventeen, thus giving him material and reason for his first published story, “Expelled,” which appeared in The New Republic the following year). Yet Cheever was also a storyteller in a more subtle and psychologically risky way because he often fictionalized the facts of his life, making them more appealing to himself and to others, though never, like F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby, going so far as to imagine an entirely new...
(The entire section is 509 words.)