Monday, May 28, 2012

Happy 100th Birthday, Mr. Cheever

Yesterday—May 27—would have been John Cheever's 100th birthday, and I like to think that I have the day off form work for that reason. In fact, maybe Memorial Day should be an annual occasion to remember writers whose work is, well, memorable. After all, May is Short Story Month.

I would be remiss if I didn't also reiterate that this Thursday night, May 31, at the Center for Fiction, The Story Prize will be co-presenting a tribute to The Stories of John Cheever. Susan Minot will read from and discuss JC's "The Sorrows of Gin." Rick Moody will focus on "The Jewels of the Cabots." And Elizabeth Strout will read from "The Worm in the Apple." If you're going to be there (and I hope you are), I would highly recommend reading/re-reading these three stories.

The 92nd Street Y offered it's centennial tribute to John Cheever, with a focus on the man himself. With the exception of Michael Chabon's spirited reading of "The Enormous Radio," the program was almost entirely dedicated to the writer and not his work. Biographer Blake Bailey read excerpts that focused on Cheever grappling with his fame. Susan Cheever read from her father's diaries, admiring the gorgeous prose that permeated even work that wasn't written for publication. And Allan Gurganus, Cheever's former student and more, read the last few sentences of "Goodbye, My Brother," and spoke at length about personal encounters with his mentor.

I'm glad the 92nd Street Y did this. Now we can focus on the reason we even remember this man 100 years after his birth—his fiction and, in particular, his stories. Call me romantic, but I would be taking note of this occasion even if I'd never seen the photos of John Cheever's handsome, craggy face or heard recordings of his exaggerated patrician accent, or learned about his troubled family relationships and his personal demons. For most of us, the stories transcend the life.