Saturday, December 02, 2006

Nothing Bad Happens In This Story

One particularly painful (not that there are a lot of ha ha moments in the entire book) of John Cheever's published journals starts: The gin bottle. The gin bottle. This is too painful to record. And yet he does. The book is a trainwreck, an early literary version of Breaking Bonaduce except with an articulate, almost always financially strapped writer of short stories instead of a highly paid former child actor at the helm, giving us a guided tour of his hell. Cheever's oldest son wrote the forward for the book -- he discusses the decision to publish these extraordinarly personal papers, a decision his father agreed with (with the condition that they appear only after his death), and how it wasn't exactly a trip to the shore to see his father's love affairs with the mulititudes played out, his rather unflattering view of his wife, and the deep desolation that haunted him, in large part due to drinking and trying not to drink. Many of the passages are comi-tragic -- ie, I tried to hold off drinking and made it (a victory) until eleven! (that's eleven in the morning). He had a leg up on his fellow writer James Dickey -- Dickey's biographer recounts that Dickey and his wife were often too drunk to take the children to school in the morning as their habit was to start in with the booze at six or seven, a cocktail with which to greet the sunrise.

And so the pages go, many moments of sadness and isolation, the lies that coil in one's heart, all recorded and published, confirming for me that we no more pick our subjects than we do our eye color. For years, I was told to lighten up with my subject matter, to be happier on the page. My dear friend and hairdresser Stacey can confirm that my hair will not under any condition turn blonde without severe damage (we tried to do a face frame with two blonde streaks -- I loved them, but alas they did not love me) and so it goes for the writing life. Cheever claims that writing is a dangerous business, and I am inclined to agree: you are awake which is neither good nor bad, only painful and joyful. My mother once picked up a hitchhiker that she thought was crippled, but when he got into the car, she realized his crutches were a prop and that he could walk. Nothing bad happens in this story. She drove him to where he needed to go, and he got out and resumed the pretense with the crutches. Sinister as he appeared with a black trench coat and a fake ailment perhaps the reality was more innocent; he was a broken man and wanted to warn people.

Michelle's Spell of the Day

"Absolute candor does not suit me, but I will come as close as possible to describing this chain of events." John Cheever

Cocktail Hour

Drinking movie suggestion: Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore

Benedictions and Maledictions

Happy Saturday!


Oscar winner said...

See Burt Lancaster in "The Swimmer," based on a Cheever short story. Cheever was brilliant at portraying emotional conflict.

AP said...

I picked up a beautiful redheaded hitchhiker who was a hair stylist and she started doing my hair for only two dollars a pop in her home. She had two darling kids, a boy and a girl. After a couple months of hair cuts(I went often because of the price)she tried to seduce me during a haircut as we discussed Tom Robbins' "Another Roadside Attraction." I turned her down, but thought the situation highly ironic given the title of the novel and how I met the beautiful, hitchhiking hairstylist. True story.

Jon said...

"The Swimmer." Not a movie for the faint of heart. The most truly existential film I've ever seen. I'd be almost afraid to see it again, but oh my God, the scene with the horse! Chills. Thanks for the reminder, Oscar Winner.

Anonymous said...

This story made me think. Creepy shit. I drink alot, to much really.

JR's Thumbprints said...

Susan Cheever wrote an interesting book on her father called "Home Before Dark." He had some real issues with the bottle and perhaps with his sexuality. I've read all his novels, my personal favorites being "Falconer" (prison setting) and "Oh What A Paradise It Seems" (novellete).

I've always felt that the better writers were struggling with something, trying to find the worm in the apple.

The Walking Man said...

Yeah you as a blond, that would work just about as much as I do [which as you know is not at all] and with colored contact lenses we can pick our eye color but all of it would be farcical and fake.

Somedays I did good with the drinking I made it until 8 (am) but then it depended on what time I got up in the mornig some days I only made it until four, bourbon and coffee that will kick start your ass.

But it does seem to be a part of the beast called writer, except technical writers those guys are speed freaks, this being an alcoholic junkie pervert.

Gods strange sense of humor, twisted our DNA to the left instead of to the right. But the fire is in the belly and if it doesn't explode then Cheever would have just been another drunk, broke most of the time, with kids who learned to like catsup on their dollar store macaroni.Now he is a noteworthy drunk who was broke most of the time and his kids learned to like catsup on their macaroni.

Biographers pick their subject and stare for hours at their keybords thinking of enough words to say to make a full length book of someones life that probably didn't need the fame anyway, we do not pick our subjects and once the first ten words are out; the first draft is done, if not on paper but in the mind a week later.

And so it is when the subject picks you. Be it happy, sad or pornographic it just has to come out and get down on paper even if it never sees the light of day.


Anonymous said...

I was always taught not to stop and pick up hitchhikers because they could be serial killers or something and I'd be in a whole mess of trouble.... I guess my family has seen too many horror movies...