by John Cheever
Published by Alfred A. Knopf
99 pgs. • Find on Amazon.com
Reviewed by Stephen O. Murray
December 31, 1994.
Having finished reading John Cheever’s journals, I went back and read his later letters, and his last novel Oh What A Paradise It Seems .
The novel’s protagonist, Lemuel Sears, is more likable than the author, more capable of happiness in his accomplishments and/or position than Cheever, who seems to have been miserable and was certainly alcoholic and very inconsiderate of those of either sex whom he fucked (or who sucked him).
Both Cheever and Sears decide that loving a man is not so terrible as they supposed it would be (though neither wants to be known to be “that way”). I might say that Sears does something useful (rescuing a pond being turned into a toxic waste dump), but I think that Cheever did something useful in his last years (writing Falconer and Paradise), too.
The first time that I read Paradise, what I liked best was what I took as an incident of inter-ethnic miscommunication about wind-chimes, with WASP indirection about taking them down or restraining them at night misunderstood as an idiotic request to turn off the wind at night, but the woman I thought was WASP is at least half Italian herself.
This time I compare Paradise favorably to Arenas’ Doorman (with its repellent gay couple). Both Cheever’s and Sears’ wallowing in stud self-images would be repellent if it weren’t so obviously a combination of ego defense and fantasy. Don’t go gently, sexually or otherwise…but there’s no need for such valorization of the phallus.
Reading Cheever’s journals should convince anyone who doubts it that internalized homophobia is real. More interesting to me is that his children accepted his male and female romances and that his wife consented to publication of all this homosexual material during her lifetime.
I’m glad I didn’t live with (or go to bed with) John Cheever, and I still admire his writing (especially at the sentence level and up to the chapter level).
©1994, 2016, Stephen O. Murray
31 December 1994, previously posted on defunct site of Bubblews