The only daughter of Pulitzer Prize-winning short story writer and novelist John Cheever and teacher Mary Winternitz, Susan Cheever eased herself slowly into becoming a writer. After graduating from preparatory schools and Brown University, she held various teaching, reportorial, and editorial positions. She eventually became a writer at Newsweek, remaining there from 1974 to 1979, her longest stint in any full-time position. By 1979 she had decided that, despite her confession of an earlier distaste for writing, she wanted to write something entirely her own rather than “dealing with other people’s fact.”
Susan Cheever’s early novels were generally considered unexceptional, primarily because of the lack of adequate characterization rather than her use of language, which tended to earn higher marks. Essentially, she was interested in exploring the lives of modern women dissatisfied with their marriages and careers and searching for something more meaningful.
In Looking for Work, Cheever’s first book (which she characterized as “straight autobiographical”), the heroine, Salley Gardens, is an upper-middle-class brat who marries, mistakenly assuming that she can and should find meaning in her life by helping her husband live his. Soon she tires of marriage and has an affair with a sculptor, but she eventually leaves him as well so that she can become a writer at Newsweek.
In A Handsome Man, which Cheever called a “narrative biographical” work, the thirty-two-year-old divorced Hannah Bart falls in love with a respectable, divorced fifty-year-old publisher. The twosome, together with the man’s estranged young son, take a trip to Ireland, where the woman tries to reconcile father and offspring. She fails, but the “handsome man” marries her because he feels grateful to her and because, as he explains, he has learned so...
(The entire section is 780 words.)