Christopher Lehmann-Haupt

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 451

Illustration of PDF document

Download Susan Cheever Study Guide

Subscribe Now

In "Looking for Work," the story of a clever, ambitious young woman punching her way out of a soggy paper bag of a marriage, Miss Cheever shows considerable promise. She strikes a note of amusing rue that manages to avoid self-pity. She produces occasional sentences that only a born writer could achieve: "On Fifth Avenue, our countrymen, our colleagues, our good friends and lovers-to-be marched with a grim and conscientious step."

Her book is full of evocative fragments…. (p. 22)

And—not to be lightly dismissed—Miss Cheever takes a common set of circumstances and makes it sound almost like a story.

But "Looking for Work" is not really much of a story. It might have been had Miss Cheever found something fresh to say about contemporary female consciousness. But since her protagonist is more confused over whether to be a coddled baby or an autonomous grown-up than she is over the conflict between freedom and responsibility, she does not even rate as a legitimate contemporary heroine. Nor has Miss Cheever found a metaphor to tie her narrative together…. She has a voice, all right. But it will not be clearly heard until she finds something more to sing about. (p. 23)

Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, "Two Novels: 'Looking for Work'," in The New York Times, Section III (© 1979 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), December 17, 1979 (and reprinted in Books of the Times, Vol. III, No. 1, 1979, pp. 22-3).

[The story of Looking for Work] is the one that so many writers regard as the story of our time, the demise of a marriage, told by a young wife who mistakenly assumed that she should and could find meaning in her life by helping her husband live his. The world is well-off Manhattan publishing-academic-artistic-literary circles, and suitable environs from Nantucket to San Francisco…. The charm of Looking For Work lies almost wholly in its streaked-blond surfaces; its considerable weakness lies in the utter shallowness of its narrator.

Susan Cheever is the daughter of John Cheever. Though much is made of an august offstage father, and though a character named "John Cheever" makes a coy appearance as a wedding guest, readers looking for a roman à clef about the senior novelist will be disappointed. (Other real-world figures, however, may be found.) In a way, readers looking for a novel of any sort will be disappointed; this book is better thought of in some other category; think of it as a lunch, a basic forty-three-dollar lunch in a little East Side restaurant with an old friend who has been through a lot.

"Life & Letters: 'Looking for Work," in The Atlantic Monthly (copyright © 1979, by The Atlantic Monthly Company, Boston, Mass.; reprinted with permission), Vol. 245, No. 1, January, 1980, p. 88.




Dominique Browning