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Kit Stolz

Interesting comparison with Hawthorne, but here's a thought...why is it that we lionize surrealism when it comes from South American writers, but dismiss it when it comes from the likes of Cheever?

Of the three Johns you mentioned, Cheever is by far the most imaginative...perhaps that's a good thing?

Michael Bartley

I thought you might be interested in this link:

I found both the video (the complete PBS episode of Dick Cavett with Upike and Cheever) and Cavett's thoughts interesting. I've only read "The Swimmer" so I do not know his works. I came across him in Hemingway and Baily's Bartending Guide to Great American Writers, a book about sloshed writers and their favorite sauces. Comined with Cavett's comments, Cheever's interior life must have been especially stormy and dark. Sad his willful destruction of others.

As for short stories, let me recommend Rick Bass. He is a master of the short story. The Lives of Rocks (his latest) and In The Loyal Mountains are two collections that illustrate his wonderful talent.

Bill Altreuter

I don't think Cheever is "marginalized" (if he is) because he is a surrealist-- I'd say that the reason he does not presently occupy a more prominent place in the pantheon of American writers because he worked mostly in the short story. There aren't many short story writers in the HOF, which is too bad. I'd say that Hemingway did his best work in short fiction ("The Killers" is so much better than any of his novels that it's not even close, for example.) Mailer wrote several excellent stories ("The Language of Men" is one of the best things he ever did) but left the form because he knew that the novel was the only thing that mattered when your career was being evaluated. There are quite a few writers of excellent short fiction that labored long and hard to produce indifferent novels in order to accomplish career validation-- Katherine Anne Porter comes to mind, and Cheever of course. I'd say that Truman Capote belongs on that list-- his only real novel was really a work of non-fiction. Writers who can do both novels and stories of equal merit are rare: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Flannery O'Connor, arguably Faulkner. It is easy enough to see why this would be so nowadays-- there isn't any market left for short fiction. The New Yorker prints one a week, The Atlantic usually has one every month, and sometimes Harpers will run a story, but not all the time. The only other places to find short fiction are in small press journals. Publishers don't really like to put out story collections, and I'll bet you that the best selling story collections over the last ten years have been anthologies rather than the work of a single writer.

Because Cheever's stuff isn't really suitable for a high school American Lit class he is becoming more and more obscure. It's too bad-- he really was a terrific writer.

Kit Stolz

Bill Altreuter makes a great point. Another example of a writer who could have been overlooked because he is not a novelist is Tennnessee Williams, who is a tremendous short story writer, but few know or care, because his plays are even better.


"Cheever is often described, and sometimes close to dismissed, as the writer of his times, the historian by way of fiction of 1950s Suburban America and its discontents, as if what he was up to in his short stories was what Yates was doing in his novel Revolutionary Road."

Um, until Blake Bailey's biography of Yates, Yates was almost completely forgotten. The best academic post Yates could manage at the time of his death was at the University of Alabama, while Cheever's late novel (Falconer) was No. 1 on the bestseller list. No Yates book sold more than 10,000 copies (and several significantly below that), while Cheever's 1978 short story collection sold 130,000 copies.

At no time until the last year would Cheever have been described in relation to Yates. Very few people knew who Yates even was. Instead, Yates was usually described as "something like Cheever", if anyone ever bothered to mention him at all.

"Henry James, Edith Wharton, Sherwood Anderson, Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Eudora Welty, each wrote more great stories and wrote with more variety and depth."

Well, not getting onto that level of greatness isn't exactly a failure, right?

"Compared to Saul Bellow, John Updike, Philip Roth, or Flannery O'Connor, Cheever was not an intellectual"

Poets aren't intellectuals.

"Of "the three Johns," Cheever, Updike, and O'Hara, I'd say it was a toss-up between Updike and Cheever, although I actually prefer O'Hara's stories to theirs."

The three Johns are from entirely different parts of history: John O'Hara's best work was from the 1930s, while John Updike was 20 years younger than Cheever and Updike's work only overlapped the very last part of Cheever's heyday. We're really talking about three eras of literature - a lion of the 1930s (O'Hara), the midcentury writers (Cheever) emerging with the post-WWII generation and Updike as part of the post-modern generation (even if Updike was hardly a postmodernist, he was usually seen against the backdrop of it). It's important to note that John O'Hara was too old to serve in WWII, Updike far too young and Cheever served for 4 years.

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