100 years of John Cheever
The creator of the "kings in golden suits" was born 100 years ago this weekend
US TV series Mad Men has won legions of fans for its portrayal of New York in the 1960s, where alcohol and cigarettes are as much a part of the characters’ daily lives as tailored suits and fedoras. But for those seeking a fuller understanding of Don Draper’s world will find all they wish for and more in the stories of John Cheever.
Born on 27 May 1912, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author was regarded as the master of the American short story and heralded for creating a dark, anxiety-ridden portrait of life in post-war United States. Many of his pieces dealing with the secret lives of suburbia-dwellers outside of the big city were published in the New Yorker magazine to critical acclaim.
In his most famous story, The Swimmer, Cheever explores the disillusionment experienced by a working-class man as he returns to his home in the suburbs by swimming across all the backyard pools in the county. His initial encounters with neighbours are cheerful and welcoming, but his endeavour takes a darker turn as confusion and exhaustion set in.
John Cheever’s ‘kings in golden suits’ – men of the 1960s who appear to have it all together, yet still turn to alcoholism and adultery to escape – created a particular mystique that has come to characterise mid-century New York. His Collected Stories, Journals, Letters and novels such as Bullet Park reveal the fracture and oppression at the heart of middle-class domestic life in America and continue to influence 21st-century perceptions of the post-war era.
Cheever died in 1982, having beaten a decades-long addiction to alcohol.