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.


It is true of even the best of us that if an observer can catch us boarding a train at a way station; if he will mark our faces, stripped by anxiety of their self-possession; if he will appraise our luggage, our clothing, and look out of the window to see who has driven us to the station; if he will listen to the harsh or tender things we say if we are with our families, or notice the way we put our suitcase onto the rack, check the position of our wallet, our key ring, and wipe the sweat off the back of our necks; if he can judge sensibly the self-importance, diffidence, or sadness with which we settle ourselves, he will be given a broader view of our lives than most of us would intend.

—John Cheever, "The Summer Farmer"