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The Journals Of John Cheever Hardcover – October 1, 1991

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

From the late 1940s until a few days before his death of cancer in 1982, the eminent American short story writer and novelist ( The Wapshot Chronicle ) recorded daily encounters with family, friends and, most powerfully, with conflicting impulses in himself. Cheever's journal entries, as selected here by his editor and introduced by his older son, Benjamin, reveal a life bracketed by "galling loneliness" and rewarding engagement with others; by a highly libidinous nature and comfort found in the conventions of his upper-middle-class, church-going, suburban New York City existence; by shame over his bisexuality and alcoholism and by moments of soaring delight in his family and in the physical world. Occasional references are made to fellow writers, e.g., Saul Bellow, Irwin Shaw and Norman Mailer, whose work evoked both despair and inspiration, and to the genesis of his own stories, but Cheever's attention never moves far from his efforts "to recognize the power of as well as the force of lust, to write, to love." Dated only by year, the entries flow seamlessly through seasons, holidays and family occasions, identifying family members and public figures by name and lovers by initials. Cheever documents the steady and anguished deterioration of his relationship with his wife, Mary, who is his literary executor ("How large a continent this is," he observes of his marriage in 1968), his fierce love for and sometimes distance from his three children, his gradual acceptance of his desire for men, his triumph over drinking and, wrenchingly, his final days. Most explicitly, however, he records his attempts to integrate often-warring aspirations and appetites. On a bus in Rome in 1957, the touch of an unseen stranger--"I will never know if it was a man or a woman, a tart or a priest"--on his shoulder creates a near-overwhelming wish for tenderness: "This is not a violet-flavored sigh or a Chopinesque longing; it is a longing as coarse and real as the hair on my belly." Cheever's journals will likely prove as lasting a body of work as his fiction. BOMC alternate.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

As explained in the editor's note, the published volume contains selected portions of Cheever's extensive personal journals. Published with the cooperation and assistance of the author's family, it represents one-twentieth of the actual journals, which span a 35-year period. The journals served Cheever both as writer's notebook and memoir, clarifying much of his method of working. The inner life of a writer is revealed in these highly introspective memoirs. Cheever writes of his alcoholism and his bisexuality; his "war with the world"; his loneliness, alienation, depression, and carnal fantasies; his love for his family; his religion (Catholicism); his perception of the role of the writer in society; and his enjoyment of the rural life at his home in the Hudson valley, all with remarkable powers of description. A candid, beautiful, often startling portrait of a 20th-century American writer. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 6/1/91.
- Lesley Jorbin, Cleveland State Univ. Lib.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 399 pages
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf; 1st edition (October 1, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0394572742
  • ISBN-13: 978-0394572741
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #460,647 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 33 people found the following review helpful By D. Bateman on July 27, 2009
Format: Paperback
I devour published journals, diaries, notebooks, sketchbooks and even letter collections like no other category in literature. When they're good and not merely dull notation - "Supped at 7:30 and went to bed early," BLAH! - there's nothing quite like them. To me, they're the hidden ground of consciousness, the unpretentious flashpoint of self-understanding and creation. Of the (by this time) hundreds I've read, Cheever's journals lead the pack. For sheer honesty, beauty of perception and phrase, he transcends the genre.

John Updike wrote a review of the book complaining that there wasn't enough context, no footnotes to make sense of the entries. Respectable as he is, Updike got it wrong. No context is needed, because from beginning to end, Cheever maintains a singular perspective, a transparent love of the world in all its complexity that illuminates even the murkist turn of events. He called it the "CAFARDE," that downward-spiraling sense we sometimes get of the trap, the uselessness of it all. The home we can ill-afford and the relationship that requires more giving than receiving. And as much as he dodges it, the big let-down is STILL a thing of beauty, an invitation to be awed by life.

It's the small, gritty, real things that he loves the most and notes with an obsessive joy.

Cheever was a husband, father, a veteran, thinker, artist, bisexual, homeowner, traveler, charmer and comedian. All of this comes through in prose as light and essential as thought itself. If you are at all interested in the cartography of another person's soul, this will become an essential text for you, as it has for me.

I never met John Cheever in person, but it hardly matters.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By LuelCanyon on November 16, 2002
Format: Paperback
Cheever says "I am fifty-four, but I still think myself too suffer nightmares about throughways and bridges." Daily peril is ever close at hand in the self-abusive pain and duty of the observed life of a 20th century master of English prose. The only peril in reading this book is a broken heart. I would stand anywhere and say there are paragraphs in these journals that rival in beauty and perfection any other in English literature you may produce. Cheever can't help it; this kind of genius is inevitable. What does it matter that misery formed a life? The pages written in Italy in the late '50s particularly, nurse a kind of transparent abiding of deep misery - seeking, arranging, soldiering it, all the while writing, fortunately. However alcohol and interior splits may have crippled aspects of Cheever's career, nothing but glory shadows his paragraphs of light! The book is more like an autobiographical duel in the form of a novel, Cheever's self-reaching so raw, and so moving his conclusions. Barely able to escape the intense life of the mind, Cheever's art threatens confessional literature by refusing to confess. He keeps his writer's mind, and makes the rest serve. As a result, the book full of a beauty that will never disappear. It's a worthwhile idea to get a copy just to read the paragraph written in 1981, after taking the dogs walking deep into the rainy woods, returning & listening to Bach's Concerto for Two Violins on headphones, while the wet and muddy dogs dry on the porch. It's an amazing book by a peerless writer.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 12, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I am a big Cheever fan and it took me about a month at 10-12 pages a night to finish this book. Before buying this book, you should consider if you want to sit through 395 pages of drink, depression, marital strife, adultery, hypocrisy (Cheever's), and bisexuality; all set in a prose that is often beautiful and sometimes fragmentary. Please be forewarned, this is a journal, not a narrative, and Cheever is not at all concerned about clarity. PS: I was struck by how much he admired Hemingway. "I think of Hemingway, what we remember of his work is not so much the color of the sky as it is the absolute taste of loneliness."
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By M. szymanski on May 10, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The sheer, physical elegance of John Cheever's stories, and novels, is equally on display in his journals. The journals, of course, is a more intimate look into the inner life of a fine writer, with all of Cheever's craftsmanship on display. The journals give you a full picture of Cheever's spirit and mind, in the pure, and eloquent language Cheever worked hard at.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 15, 2003
Format: Paperback
Read these journals and you will meet this man. Not just the sardonic detached observer of the cocktail party set. Yes, the journals verify that he is that. And not just the gentle introspective genius who pours his heart out to the labradors as he empties his nth glass of gin sitting on the porch as a warm summer night drifts to an end. (is that too). But the man who, when a grand and ancient 3 and a half foot snapping turtle dares trample his flower bed, pumps 10 shotgun rounds unceremoniously into its head. Ten. (and remember, this is in Westchester). A man who basked in his celebrity and yet felt insecure around people of learning (he was high school dropout). A man who loved his wife as deeply as he resented marriage (ok, that's most of us - but he captures it). Some slogging, no doubt. But the gems make it overwhelmingly worthwhile. To read it is not just research, but a prose adventure into a soul.
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