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John Cheever 1912 -1982

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American short story writer and novelist. See also, "The Swimmer" Criticism.

Cheever is regarded as one of the most important twentieth-century American writers of short fiction. He has been dubbed “the Ovid of Ossining,” “the Dante of suburbia,” and “the Chekhov of the exurbs” for his ability to chronicle with grandeur and pathos the lives of upper middle-class Americans. Many of Cheever's works revolve around the cocktail parties, swimming pools, barbecues, and commuter trains that are hallmarks of suburbia. Although critics note that many writers do not find the seemingly bland uniformity of the exurbs a fertile ground for interesting fiction, Cheever has the ability to expose the turmoil and complexity that lies below the surface of this seemingly tranquil terrain. Cheever gained popularity and notoriety as a social commentator for his early stories “The Swimmer,” “The Enormous Radio,” and “The Housebreaker of Shady Hill,” but only began to receive serious scholarly attention after the republication of sixty-one of his best stories in the 1978 collection, The Stories of John Cheever. Cheever is praised by critics for his ability to treat his characters with compassion and wit while maintaining the absurdity of their surroundings and the futility of their actions; his stories hold out the hope of their redemption in love.

Biographical Information

Cheever was born in Quincy, Massachusetts, on May 27, 1912. His writing is rich with his New England heritage—from the physical settings to the manners, mores, and morality that pervade his stories. Cheever attended Quincy High School and Thayer Academy, a preparatory school in South Braintree, Massachusetts, but his formal education ceased in 1929 when he was expelled at age seventeen for smoking. Cheever used his experience at Thayer as the subject matter for his first short story, “Expelled,” which launched his literary career when it was published in the New Republic in 1930. After his expulsion, Cheever moved to Boston and then to New York, where he supported himself by working in department stores and on newspapers. Throughout the 1930s Cheever published stories in various magazines including Atlantic, Colliers, Story, and the Yale Review. In 1935 Cheever published “Brooklyn Rooming House,” the first of his stories to appear in the New Yorker. Cheever's affiliation with the that publication would span the length of his literary career, and one hundred and twenty-one of his nearly two hundred short stories were originally published in issues of the New Yorker. Although Cheever's association with the magazine gave him much exposure, early critics tended to dismiss his work on the basis that it was slick, stereotypical, and formulaic work typical of the New Yorker. Cheever's first volume of stories, The Way Some People Live, was published in 1943 while he was serving in the U. S. Army. The collection was composed of thirty pieces, many of them little more than fragments, and received mostly tepid reviews. Cheever's second collection, The Enormous Radio and Other Stories, published in 1953, contained fourteen longer and more fully developed works than his first collection. Still tainted by his association with the New Yorker, the second collection was still met with mixed success.

Cheever was determined to complete a novel in the following years. In 1957 he succeeded with the publication of The Wapshot Chronicle. This was followed in 1958 by The Housebreaker of Shady Hill, a collection that included the stories “The Five-Forty-Eight,” which had won the Benjamin Franklin Magazine award, and “The Country Husband,” which had won the O. Henry Award. Cheever's fourth collection of stories, Some People, Places, and Things That Will Not Appear in My Next Novel, was published in 1961. Three years...

(The entire section contains 51031 words.)

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