Colm Tóibín on John Cheever

In his early forties, after winning an O. Henry Award, Cheever went to see his mother. He reported the following exchange: ‘I read in the newspaper that you won a prize.’ ‘Yes, mother, I didn’t tell you about it because it wasn’t terribly important to me.’ ‘No, it wasn’t to me either.’ In the Wapshot novels, everybody loves Coverly’s older brother, Moses, but ‘everybody did not love Coverly.’ So, too, everyone loved Fred, John Cheever’s older brother, who was born in 1905, but everybody did not love John, who was born in 1912. By the time his mother was pregnant with him, indeed, the marriage was under so much strain that Cheever’s father invited an abortionist to dinner. As Blake Bailey writes in his biography: ‘It was a story that haunted Cheever the rest of his life … Not surprisingly, he saw fit to blame his mother for having the bad taste to tell him of the episode.’


You don't have to wonder very far to see how some people became writers, though you do have to wonder what they might have become had they not.