Wednesday, March 18, 2009

How sad Cheever, how happy Carpenter

I've read some of the reviews of the new biography of John Cheever with mild interest. His fiction has never appealed to me, for perhaps obvious reasons, but the whole business of his bitter life of hiding, humiliation and self-hatred as a gay man, which has been well known since soon after he died, is getting another look all around, and seems if anything even sadder upon revisiting. Earlier this week came this excerpt, via the New York Times' Paper Cuts book blog, from composer Ned Rorem's The Nantucket Diary, which illuminates Cheever's desperation.
John arrives early. No sooner is he in the door than he drops his pants, pleads, whispers how lonely he is ... John like a bull in a china closet chases me about like a Mack Sennett comedy until I lock myself in the bathroom. 'Please come out, I'll be good.' So I come out, and we sit nervously on the sofa, John still with his trousers around his ankles, when J.H. comes in. ... J.H. offers to take him to the baths; no, he just wants to sit on the sofa for a while with J.H.'s arms around him.
I've been looking around for some gay commentary on the bio or on Cheever but so far haven't come up with much. But then, how happy is this. I stumbled upon this Gay Book Blog and its notice of a recent biography of Edward Carpenter by the redoubtable Sheila Rowbotham, whose Women, Resistance and Revolution and Hidden from History were among the first books I read during my lesbian-activist-coming-to-socialist-consciousness years in the early 1970s.