Critical Insights: John Cheever

Critical Insights Series

The series focuses on an individual author's entire body of work, a single work of literature, or a literary theme.

At a Glance
  • 1 Volume; 300 Pages
  • 10-14 essays offering Current Critical Analysis by Top Literary Scholars
  • Introductory Essay by the Editor
  • Chronology of Author's Life
  • Complete List of Author's Works
  • Publication Dates of Works
  • Detailed Bio of the Editor
  • General Bibliography
  • General Subject Index
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Editor: Robert A. Morace, author
September 2011 · 1 volume · 360 pages · 6"x9"

Includes Online Database with Print Purchase
ISBN: 978-1-58765-827-3
# of Pages: 300
# of Volumes: 1
Print List Price: $105
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e-ISBN: 978-1-58765-880-8
eBook Single User Price: $105

This collection provides broad coverage of Cheever and his work. Original essays discuss the basic facts of Cheever's life and critical reputation. The work explores his complicated personal life and discusses his decorous style and fragmented structure, and his fascination with language.

This Critical Insights volume opens with essays that provide the basic facts of Cheever's life and critical reputation. Providing these facts is especially important in the case of the biography of a man who was prone to self-mythologizing. What's more, Cheever's version of his own life was long accepted as fact but, posthumously, has been complicated by unflattering revelations about his personal life in his daughter's memoirs, in his published journals and in two biographies.

Establishing the basic facts of Cheever's critical reception is equally important and differently challenging. The critical response to his writing was a roller-coaster ride. Reviewers and critics consistently failed to reach a consensus on Cheever's importance.

Suburbia is central to any analysis of Cheever. Here he is discussed as a suburban romancer rather than, as was more usually the case, a novelist of manners. Mixed with self-doubt, this approach "may begin with allegorical ambitions but . . . then morphs into such tortuous interconnections, where superficial differences . . . become virtually synonymous with one another so that they are so entangled, one cannot decide where one ends and the other begins."

Cheever is described as "an unfailingly surreal lyricist of disorientation . . . whose fictions are propelled by fear" and who used imagination to mediate "between senseless reality and an immensely coherent dreamworld."

Cheever's "wariness" toward modern life is treated in two essays that survey Cheever's entire career. In "Supermarket and Superhighway," these two dominant symbols are representative of the "nomadism and commercialism" that characterize "the modern malaise."

Another essay takes a similarly expansive look at Cheever's career (through Falconer) but reaches a very different conclusion. "Cheever's subject has been the increasing alienation of modern man from a central role in his own life to that of a peripheral, almost ignored spectator to a social process that has little real need of any individuals, requiring merely a mass."

Cheever depicted the suburbs as "a forceful yoking together of impossible contraries." In Cheever's much maligned third novel, Bullet Park, the "wry moral censure of the banal suburban existence" that is so evident in Cheever's short fiction is given the space needed to pursue "dimensions of human dejection not completely accessible to the shorter form."

Putting Cheever's suburban fiction in historical context, in another essay the writer examines the cultural significance of the suburbs in the 50's and 60's, plus the sociological and fictional responses to the suburbanization of American life. In this context, it is noted that Cheever treats his white suburban readers as if they were "everyone."

Each essay is 5,000 words in length, and all essays conclude with a list of "Works Cited," along with endnotes. Finally, the volume's appendixes offer a section of useful reference resources:

A chronology of the author's life
A complete list of the author's works and their original dates of publication
A general bibliography
A detailed paragraph on the volume's editor
Notes on the individual chapter authors
A subject index