Both interpretations of Cheever hinge on the assumption that he is, or ought to be, the bearer of bad news: he either succeeds because he condemns society, or fails because he does not. But the bad news is old news. Both judgments demonstrate a desire that his work confirm, rather than surprise, the reader’s assumptions about the world.


The automatic, Tifty-esque rejection of beauty is, for Cheever, as shallow and lazy and deceptive as false optimism. To assume that happiness is simply a mask for sadness is to reduce the world to a facile code, one that subsumes the peculiarities and possibilities of individual experience and, every time it is deciphered, says only the same thing: the world is rotten, and for knowing this you are better than it. Anyone can do a line drawing, the flat squiggle of the wretched worm, but Cheever’s vision is fuller than this, concerned as he is with the whole round shape of the apple where we, worms all, are lucky to live our lives.

The Cheever Revival, Elizabeth Gumport