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4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 4.00 (348 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Blake Bailey Narrator: Malcolm Hillgartne Publisher: Blackstone Audio Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date:
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This luminous biography reveals, for the first time, the full and unforgettable life of a writer of timeless fiction. Drawing on unprecedented access to essential sources, Blake Bailey shows us a soul in conflict: a high-school dropout who published his first story at eighteen; a proud Yankee who flaunted his lineage while deploring the provincialism of his Quincy, Massachusetts, family circle; 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 a revolving door of self-loathing and hedonism. Concealing his anxieties behind the mask of the genial Westchester squire, Cheever earned fame and glamorous company with his groundbreaking work, yet the joy of creation could never wholly offset his desperate loneliness.

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Quotes & Awards

  • “The most exquisite, compelling and heartbreaking life I’ve yet encountered. Blake Bailey doesn’t merely write like an angel, he is an angel—he seamlessly resuscitates the past to make it live and breathe in the present, and he writes with all the power and authority of our finest novelists.”

    T. C. Boyle, author of The Tortilla Curtain

  • “An extraordinary book. Bailey captures the man inside the man, perhaps the hardest thing to do. John Cheever lives in this book—the whole complicated, bottomless mess of lonely good cheer and the pain of him. Even, perhaps especially, the character that Cheever (as writer) made out of the tortured, inviolable hardwood of himself. And the larger story is here too, that of the terrible price one pays for one’s art. It both sustained Cheever and destroyed him. I stayed up all night reading this biography. I couldn’t put it down.”

    Philip Schultz, author of Failure, winner of the 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry

  • “This is pitch-perfect biography—merciless and deeply compassionate in equal parts, psychologically and literarily acute to the ’nth degree, and beautifully written, without a whiff of cant or pretension. Like its subject, it’s by turns heartrending and laugh-out-loud funny, and while it renders his every foible with Chuck Close-like precision, it never for a second undercuts his goddamn nobility—a quantity that’s in miserably short supply in these wretched times.”

    James Kaplan, author of Two Guys from Verona

  • “John Cheever was a shopkeeper’s son and self-styled aristocrat, a bisexual suburban dad, a legendary drunk, and one of the greatest short-story writers of all time. Blake Bailey’s masterful and poignant biography reveals the connection between the tormented, perpetually disappointed man and the brilliant, intuitive artist who illuminated the terrors and yearnings lurking beneath the prosperous surface of Cold War America. Here is Cheever in all his complicated, heartbreaking glory.”

    Tom Perrotta, author of Little Children

  • “Stunningly detailed…so wise and serious, so human an account…both arresting and disturbing…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…His sketches of dozens of characters who were touched by Cheever are short stories in themselves, and he sometimes bores right to the center of complex relationships, revealing their essence in a sentence.”

    New York Times Book Review

  • “One of the best and most eloquent literary biographies I have ever read and every inch the record that Cheever deserves…This combination of sparkling writing and stirring subject makes the long biography almost mesmerizing, and gives us remarkable access to one of the greatest writers of his time.”

    O magazine

  • “Fascinating…Mr. Bailey meticulously demonstrates that Cheever was an artist who worked from life…drawing on unprecedented access to Cheever’s papers and family, Mr. Bailey approaches his subject like a concerned parole officer…countering both his subject’s soaring enthusiasms and paranoid forebodings with clear-eyed judgment.”

    Wall Street Journal

  • “Surely definitive."

    Boston Globe

  • “Sympathetic and deeply engaging…Bailey dramatizes Cheever’s resolute self-creation and its considerable psychic costs through the use of adroitly interwoven narrative strands…This book is also a portrait of the twentieth century.”

    San Francisco Chronicle

  • “[An] always entertaining biography, composed with a novelist’s eye…[Cheever] has probably yet to find a definitive position in American letters among academicians. This thoroughly researched and heartfelt biography may help redress that situation.”

    Publishers Weekly

  • “Monumental, masterful…rich with detail…This literary hat trick will no doubt spark a well-deserved Cheever renaissance honoring his legacy as an American master.”

    Amazon.com Review, Best Books of 2009

  • “Perhaps a Cheever renaissance of sorts will result from this magnificently understanding and understandable biography based on copious research and destined to be the definitive life treatment…Riveting from page one, this is the literary biography of the season and will be talked about for years to come; it will also, it is hoped, guide readers once again to his distinctive fiction, especially his short stories.”

    Booklist (starred review)

  • “A comprehensive treatment of the tormented but artful life of one of fiction’s modern masters…Bailey plunges deeply into the murky, sometimes fetid stew of John Cheever’s life…Superb work that shows Cheever wrestling with dark angels, but wresting from these encounters some celestial prose.”

    Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

  • “Having read the book twice, I just downloaded your prompt recording. I’ve listened to less than five minutes now, but you’ve clearly made another brilliant choice. Malcolm Hillgartner does a splendid—and outstanding—job of it. I thank you. My mother thanks you. My sister thanks you. My father thanks you.”

    Benjamin Cheever

  • “Like Bailey’s fine biography of Richard Yates, Cheever is full of intelligence, clarity, and kindliness toward its subject, without losing an ounce of judiciousness. It is also deeply and utterly readable, even eloquent. It honors its subject with grace and candor and subtle understanding. A richly rewarding treatment of one of our very best.”

    Richard Bausch, author of Peace  

  • “[Cheever’s] story here is told by a narrator of unusually subtle gifts. Bailey’s book is as lively (and squalid) as his subject but quite dense, an attribute Malcolm Hillgartner overcomes with wondrous pacing and inflection. So in command is he that with the merest pause, he clearly indicates the beginning and ending of quotations or a shift in perspective. And his unfaltering impression of Cheever’s Brahmin accent—wholly invented by the writer—rings with acerbity, humor, or pathos. Cheever is very much alive in this reading.”


  • Winner of the 2009 National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography
  • Winner of the AudioFile Earphones Award
  • A 2009 AudioFile Best Audiobook of the Year for Biography
  • A 2009 iTunes Best Nonfiction Pick
  • A 2009 Amazon Top 100 Book
  • A Booklist Editors’ Choice of 2009
  • A 2009 Booklist Top of the List Pick
  • A 2009 Publishers Weekly Top 10 Book
  • A 2009 Oregonian Top 10 Book
  • A 2010 Pulitzer Prize Finalist for Biography/Autobiography
  • A 2009 Time Magazine Best Book for Nonfiction
  • A 2009 San Francisco Chronicle Best Book for Nonfiction
  • One of the 2009 New York Times Book Review 100 Notable Books for Nonfiction
  • Winner of the 2010 Parkman Prize

Listener Opinions

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Nicholas Montemarano | 2/8/2014

    " I'd been looking forward to this biography for a while (Bailey's previous biography of Richard Yates is among my favorite books). I found Bailey's life of Cheever to be equally impressive (the amount of detail is almost overwhelming), but I didn't fall in love with Cheever, as he comes to life on the page, as much as I'd fallen in love with Yates. This has less to do with Bailey and much more to do with Cheever and Yates and my sympathetic inclinations. True, both men were alcoholic, troubled, selfish, narcissistic, and starved for love and validation, yet my heart broke more for Yates. I think it has something to do with Cheever's fame (at times, worldwide) vs. Yates' (certainly an accomplished writer, but he flew a bit more under the radar, though I suspect even fame wouldn't have exorcised his demons). Must say, too: I was surprised to discover, was angry to discover, just how many mediocre stories (sometimes, by his own and Bailey's admission, terrible) were accepted for publication by The New Yorker. For what it's worth, I found Cheever's Journals more moving and beautifully written than anything else he wrote; his best art. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 by Peter | 2/1/2014

    " This is a very thorough, well-researched and humanizing portrait of Cheever. In the beginning, I almost wondered if it was too thoroughly researched. You really get an account of almost every month of Cheever's life, from his childhood years in Quincy to his time at Yaddo, and so on. you also get a very good sense of his family and his relationships with various writers and artists he knew throughout his life. The more the story goes on, the more intriguing Cheever becomes. You begin to realize that there is almost no way to pin him down, exactly. He's a bundle of contradictions. I could go on about specific parts of the book, but you should read it yourself! "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 by Willa Grant | 1/28/2014

    " Good book about a bad man. John Cheever may have been a brilliant writer but he was odious as a person. I had heard that he was less than a nice person but he was really a scuz-butt. Bad enough he married women instead of admitting he was a homosexual, he treated his children less than kindly & he was a drunk. The worst part was, that he thought himself so much better than everyone. Bleh- I just wanted to wash after reading this book. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 by Patrick | 1/11/2014

    " I have finally conquered this massive tome, and I'm glad I did. I need to go back and re-read some of the stories and Falconer, but the basic premise here is that Cheever has been unjustly overlooked since his death; I probably agree. Much of the content here is exhaustingly sad. "

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About the Author
Author Blake Bailey

Blake Bailey is the author of award-winning biographies of John Cheever, Richard Yates, and Charles Jackson. He is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and an Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the winner of a National Book Critics Circle Award and the Francis Parkman Prize, and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He lives in Virginia, where he is the Mina Hohenberg Darden Professor of Creative Writing at Old Dominion University.