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Tales of talent and cruelty

A biography of one of America’s greatest short-story writers eloquently depicts his battles with drink and depression, but fails to link that man to his art

By William Skidelsky   December 2009

John Cheever at his home in Ossining, New York, 6th October 1979

Cheever: A Life By Blake Bailey (Picador, £25)

Literary history is dotted with writers who came to despise the works that made them famous. Arthur Conan Doyle churned out 56 short stories and four novels featuring Sherlock Holmes, yet considered his historical fiction to be his only “important” work. When William Golding reread his first novel, Lord of the Flies, two decades after it was published, he found it “boring and crude… O-level stuff.” The big creative problem of John Cheever’s life was that he was a first-rate…

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