Readers of John Cheever’s stories, most of which appeared in the New Yorker before being collected in a Pulitzer-winning book in 1978, regarded the author as “the Ovid of Ossining,” the artist who showed the riches and wonders of suburban life. Alert to the transcendent in the everyday, he perceived a “moral quality” in the very light that fell on the Dutch Colonial homes and lush lawns of the commuter suburbs outside New York. His characters might drink too much, they might break their vows, but they are usually drawn back toward order and light. “Stand up straight,” he urged his readers. “Admire the world. Relish the love of a gentle woman. Trust in the Lord.”
It was something of a shock, then, when Cheever’s journals were published in 1991. The man who had hymned the love of man and wife was shown to be tormented by homosexual longing. (“Every comely man, every bank clerk and delivery boy was aimed at my life like a loaded pistol.”) The drunken escapades of his characters took on a darker cast when seen alongside his own grim battle with drink.