Robert Gottlieb, editor   The Journals of John Cheever.
Knopf, 399 pages, $25

What an unenviable posthumous career John Cheever has had! In 1984, two years after his death, his daughter, Susan, rushed into print with a tell-all memoir; in 1988 came a dull biography by Scott Donaldson and a collection of letters that made Cheever seem almost doltish. The correspondence was edited (and outfitted with an astonishingly self-indulgent running commentary) by the author’s son Benjamin; for the journals, the family has wisely called in a pro, Robert Gottlieb. The book, which covers the years 1948 to 1982 and contains only the twentieth part of Cheever’s journals, proves to be as vibrant, poignant, and authentic as much of his fiction and as beautifully written, at its best, as anything he ever published.

It is also, alas, unrelievedly depressing. Cheever tirelessly proclaims his anxiety and...

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