Friday, March 31st, 2023

Closeted alcoholic John Cheever’s transcendent last novel

cheeverOh What a Paradise It Seems

by John Cheever

Published by Alfred A. Knopf

Published 1992
99 pgs. • Find on

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 [1982].

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).

John Cheever
John Cheever

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


About The Author

Stephen O. Murray grew up in rural southern Minnesota, earned a B.A. from James Madison College (within Michigan State University), an M.A. from the University of Arizona, a Ph.D. from the University of Toronto (both in sociology), and was a postdoctoral fellow at Berkeley (in anthropology). He is the author of American Gay, Homosexualities, etc. and lives in San Francisco.