Two Takes on Cheever

Perhaps it's fitting that John Updike’s final review for the New Yorker is a review of a book about an old friend. Updike takes us through the highlights of Blake Bailey’s new John Cheever biography, Cheever: A Life, which is thorough, but adheres to a “painstaking chronology.” The biography takes us into the details of an unhappy marriage, and reveals that Cheever could not score higher than 110 on an I.Q. test, thus disqualifying him from the Army’s Officer Candidate School. Writes Updike: “All this biographer’s zeal makes a heavy, dispiriting read, to the point that even I, a reader often enraptured by Cheever’s prose and an acquaintance who generally enjoyed his lively company, wanted the narrative, pursued in methodical chapters that tick past year after year, to hurry through the menacing miasma of a life which, for all the sparkle of its creative moments, brought so little happiness to its possessor and to those around him.” Charles McGrath's piece in The New York Times Magazine commends the biographer for his detailed account, and says this book's release may be "Cheever's best chance, and maybe the last one for a while, to join the ranks of the great 20th-century American writers."