Sunday, February 03, 2013

John Cheever, The Art of Fiction

Interviewed by Annette Grant - The Paris Review

The first meeting with John Cheever took place in the spring of 1969, just after his novel Bullet Park was published. Normally, Cheever leaves the country when a new book is released, but this time he had not, and as a result many interviewers on the East Coast were making their way to Ossining, New York, where the master storyteller offered them the pleasures of a day in the country—but very little conversation about his book or the art of writing.
Cheever has a reputation for being a difficult interviewee. He does not pay attention to reviews, never rereads his books or stories once published, and is often vague about their details. He dislikes talking about his work (especially into “one of those machines”) because he prefers not to look where he has been, but where he’s going.

For the interview Cheever was wearing a faded blue shirt and khakis. Everything about him was casual and easy, as though we were already old friends. The Cheevers live in a house built in 1799, so a tour of buildings and grounds was obligatory. Soon we were settled in a sunny second-floor study where we discussed his dislike of window curtains, a highway construction near Ossining that he was trying to stop, traveling in Italy, a story he was drafting about a man who lost his car keys at a nude theater performance, Hollywood, gardeners and cooks, cocktail parties, Greenwich Village in the thirties, television reception, and a number of other writers named John (especially John Updike, who is a friend).
Although Cheever talked freely about himself, he changed the subject when the conversation turned to his work. Aren’t you bored with all this talk? Would you like a drink? Perhaps lunch is ready, I’ll just go downstairs and check. A walk in the woods, and maybe a swim afterwards? Or would you rather drive to town and see my office? Do you play backgammon? Do you watch much television?

During the course of several visits we did in fact mostly eat, drink, walk, swim, play backgammon, or watch television. Cheever did not invite me to cut any wood with his chain saw, an activity to which he is rumored to be addicted. On the day of the last taping, we spent an afternoon watching the New York Mets win the World Series from the Baltimore Orioles, at the end of which the fans at Shea Stadium tore up plots of turf for souvenirs. “Isn’t that amazing,” he said repeatedly, referring both to the Mets and their fans.
Afterward we walked in the woods, and as we circled back to the house, Cheever said, “Go ahead and pack your gear, I’ll be along in a minute to drive you to the station” . . . upon which he stepped out of his clothes and jumped with a loud splash into a pond, doubtless cleansing himself with his skinny-dip from one more interview.

Interview at The Paris Review

No comments: