CHEEVER, JOHN (1912 - ) American short-story writer and novelist, whose reputation as a master of the short story is unsurpassed among living American authors. His early novels present the mythic, pastoral world of his ancestral New England and its slow extinction by the forces of modern technological society. His later, best-known fiction centers on suburban life and its discontents.
Cheever was born in Quincy, Mass., May 27, 1912, and was schooled at Thayer Academy in South Braintree. In 1935 The New Yorker published his first story, "The Brooklyn Rooming House," and, ever since, Cheever's name has been associated with the magazine, which has published more than 120 of his tales. His collections of stories include The Way Some People Live (1942), The Enormous Radio (1954), The Housebreaker of Shady Hill (1959), Some People, Places, and Things That Will Not Appear in My Next Novel (1961), The Brigadier and the Gold Widow (1964), and the The World of Apples (1973). In 1958, Cheever received the National Book Award for his first novel, The Wapshot Chronicle (1957). His second novel, The Wapshot Scandal (1964), was a sequel to The Wapshot Chronicle. His other novels are Bullet Park (1969) and Falconer (1977).
Cheever's central theme is the loneliness and isolation of the individual, whose personal desires are frequently at odds with the prevailing social order. Although these concerns are most overt in Cheever's tales of suburbia, where the loss of a harmonious New England past is seen as a prelude to the alienation of modern corporate life, the theme of confinement is already present in the apparently pristine world of the Wapshot novels. Here the Wapshot sons, Moses and Coverly, feel the need to break away from the inbred society of St. Botolphs despite the compensatory comforts that make it a paradise lost. Like John Updike, with whom he is often associated in his celebration of a fading community of Protestant values, Cheever thus organizes his fiction around the rhythms of flight and homecoming in the lives of his characters. In Falconer he moves toward a total rejection of confinement as a symbol for the condition of the soul. Ezekiel Farragut is put in a real prison only to find that there are no "fields of paradise on the other side of the wall." Farragut escapes from jail at the novel's close to discover that what is confining in the social order is in fact what defines life and gives meaning to it.