Cheever’s problems with his parents, brother, wife, alcoholism, and bisexuality have already been outlined in HOME BEFORE DARK, the 1984 memoir by his daughter, Susan Cheever, but Scott Donaldson, a professor of English at the College of William and Mary, goes into more detail about these personal matters while showing how the writer turned the often painful raw materials of his life into the beauty and order of fiction.
Cheever was the unwanted second child of a domineering mother and a weak father. His mother made him uncertain of his worth as a person, and he desperately wanted affection from the father he was convinced never loved him. Donaldson shows how Cheever improved this upbringing in his stories and novels, making light of his parents’ faults. As he grew older, he turned more and more to his brother, Fred, the person he said he loved the most in his life. Yet Cheever also hated Fred at times, believing that they were unnaturally close. These mixed feelings can be seen in “Goodby, My Brother,” one of his best stories.
Cheever’s rocky marriage survived forty years despite his frequent infidelities and the drinking that increased when he finally became a success after nearly thirty years as a professional writer. His bisexuality was less latent than his daughter presents it, obsessing and confusing Cheever from his childhood. Donaldson sees the writer as a paradox: a conventional family man to his suburban neighbors and also a drunken sexual adventurer given to dark depressions. His biographer offers a Cheever who told stories to escape from life, convinced that he had failed at all else.
Sources for Further Study
The Atlantic. CCLXII, August, 1988, p. 80.
Booklist. LXXXIV, May 15, 1988, p. 1554.
Kirkus Reviews. LVI, May 15, 1988, p. 737.
Library Journal. CXIII, July, 1988, p. 80.
Los Angeles Times Book Review. July 17, 1988, p. 1.
The New York Times Book Review. XCIII, July 10, 1988, p. 1.
Publishers Weekly. CCXXXIII, May 20, 1988, p. 72.
Time. CXXXI, June 27, 1988, p. 59.