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
Drinking movie suggestion: Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore
Benedictions and Maledictions