Although a chronicler of suburbia, Cheever left New York City to live in Westchester County with great reluctance and only when forced either to purchase his apartment or give it up. His early stories portray the loveless lives of lunch-cart workers, stripteasers and sailors. In later years, the comfortably upper-middle-class novelist grew sickened with modern life's rootlessness and materialism. Donaldson, biographer of Fitzgerald and Hemingway, has achieved a coup of investigative reporting in this first in-depth biography of the writer. A troubled adolescent who felt unloved and guilty over his bisexuality, Cheever made love the central concern of his fiction. Donaldson delves into the writer's deteriorating marriage, his alcoholism, persistent phobias and self-disgust, his affairs with actress Hope Lange and composer Ned Rorem, blending in sensitive appraisals of the short stories and novels. Cheever's implicit belief that women and men are basically irreconcilable is analyzed in the context of his relationship to a dominant mother and a weak father who failed in business. Photos not seen by PW. (June)
Cheever's prodigious talents earned him the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the loyalty of myriad readers. His luminous fictions penetrated the inner life of American suburbia, but his own interior self was an agonizing contradiction from youth until his death in 1981. This scholarly biography portrays a devoted family man obsessed by love affairs, a disciplined worker impaired by alcoholism, a self-doubter known for his wit and charm. Donaldson uses telling interviews with surviving relatives and friends to leaven and enliven this candid, moving chronicle, which adds to and complements Susan Cheever's popular memoir, Home Before Dark. Most libraries will want. Starr E. Smith, Georgetown Univ. Lib., Washington, D.C.