From the acclaimed author of A Tragic Honesty: The Life and Work of Richard Yates comes the unforgettable life of John Cheever (1912 – 1982), a man who spent much of his career impersonating a perfect suburban gentleman, the better to become one of the foremost chroniclers of postwar America. “I was born into no true class,” Cheever mused in his journal, “and it was my decision, early in life, to insinuate myself into the middle class, like a spy, so that I would have an advantageous position of attack, but I seem now and then to have forgotten my mission and to have taken my disguises too seriously.” Written with unprecedented access to essential sources–including Cheever’s massive journal, only a fraction of which has ever been published–Blake Bailey’s biography reveals the troubled but strangely lovable man behind the disguises, an artist who delighted in the everyday radiance of the world while yearning, above all, “to be illustrious.”

Cheever’s was a soul in conflict: he was a proud Yankee who flaunted his lineage while deploring the provincialism of his Quincy, Massachusetts, family circle; a high-school dropout who published his first story at eighteen; a pioneer of suburban realist fiction who continually pushed the boundaries of realism; a dire alcoholic who recovered to write the great novel Falconer; a secret bisexual who struggled with his longings and his fierce homophobia in a revolving door of self-loathing and hedonism. We see a man who concealed his anxieties behind the mask of a genial Westchester squire–a paterfamilias in Brooks Brothers clothes whose world was peopled by legendary writers and beautiful women (Malcolm Cowley, Saul Bellow, William Maxwell, Hope Lange, and John Updike, among them); whose groundbreaking work landed him on the covers of Time and Newsweek; a man whose demons and desperation were never quite vanquished by the joy he found in his art.


Praise for CHEEVER: A LIFE

Click to read.

“So wise and serious, so human an account. . . . Even more eloquent and resourceful than Bailey’s celebrated biography of Richard Yates. . . . [Bailey] seems to me as good an interpreter of Cheever’s stories and novels as I have read.”

–Geoffrey Wolff, The New York Times Book Review


“A definitive, Dickensian rendering of a complete and complicated life, addictively readable and long overdue.”

–Bret Anthony Johnston, The New York Times


“A triumph of thorough research and unblinkered appraisal.”

–John Updike, The New Yorker


Cheever: A Life is, quite simply, the best example of literary biography I have ever read. A+”

–Tina Jordan, Entertainment Weekly

Click to read Updike review.


“First-rate, amazing, scandalous and hilarious. I simply can’t imagine a better literary biography than this one.”

–Philip Hensher, The Spectator


“Lively, funny, informative, astute, masterly. It’s impossible to imagine how anyone could have done a better job.”

–Blake Morrison, The Guardian


“Beautifully Woven, deeply researched, and delightfully free of isms.”

–Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times


“Fabulous, enormously enjoyable. . . . [Cheever] does the best thing a writer’s biography can do: it reminds us how provisional a writer’s life can feel and makes us appreciate there is any work at all.”

–John Freeman, Dallas Morning News


“Fascinating. . . . Bailey counter[s] both his subject’s soaring enthusiasm and paranoid forebodings with clear-eyed judgment.”

–David Propson, The Wall Street Journal


“Sympathetic and deeply engaging. . . . Also a portrait of the twentieth century.”

–Jacob Molyneux, San Francisco Chronicle


“[Bailey’s] life of Cheever is an impressive, even a beautiful, achievement.”

–Algis Valiunas, Commentary


“One of the best and most eloquent biographies I have ever read, and every inch the record that Cheever deserves. . . . [Bailey] gives us remarkable access to one of the greatest writers of his time.”

–Vince Passaro, O, The Oprah Magazine


“Perfectly judged and nuanced.”

–Eric Homberger, The Independent


“[An] expansive, wonderfully written biography. . . . Unstintint. . . . Bracing. . . . To read Bailey on Cheever is to arrive at a much fuller appreciation of a deeply gifted chronicler of American life.”

–Matt Shaer, The Christian Science Monitor


“A portrait of the man drawn judiciously but compellingly and in harrowing detail. . . . [A] fine biography.”

–Richard Lacayo, Time


“Exemplary. . . . Bailey had brought [Cheever’s] life into such eloquent relief that it’s easy to imagine Cheever, if only for a moment, finally feeling like someone understood him.”

–Gregg LaGambina, The Onion


“Definitive. . . . Judicious and nuanced. . . . Mr. Bailey’s research is impeccable and exhaustive–a mighty feat.”

–Adam Begley, The New York Observer


“A biography of monumental heft . . . that certifies Cheever’s enduring relevance.”

–James Wolcott, Vanity Fair