Monday, July 12, 2021

Bullet Park by John Cheever


JC has said of Bullet Park, "I'd like to write a gothic novel without being caught in the act."

I loved this one, even though the final 10 pages or so are ridiculously fast-paced, after a completely langorous setup.

Some reactions: 

Granted, Bullet Park is a strange performance, and it was a bad sign that even reviewers who were nothing but well disposed to Cheever seemed a little puzzled. A few months before her review appeared in the Washington Post Book World, Joyce Carol Oates had been quoted as saying that she was Updike's and Cheever's “ideal reader” (“whatever they write I read immediately, and I read it again two or three times”), so it made sense perhaps that she and Updike were en rapport in regard to Bullet Park: neither thought the book amounted to a novel, properly speaking, but rather that it worked (as Updike wrote in the London Times) “as a slowly revolving mobile of marvellously poeticized moments,” or, as Oates put it, “a series of eerie, sometimes beautiful, sometimes
overwrought vignettes.” Oates knew better than to worry whether the plot was “convincing” or not, pointing out that Cheever was if anything bent on making his plot as outlandish as possible; and yet, for all the novel's seeming absurdity, said Oates, it conveyed a sense of “terror … as deadly, more deadly, than any promised in the glib new genre of ‘black comedy’ Cheever has been writing such comedy for decades.” John Leonard, whose review appeared in the daily New York Times, also realized that conventional narrative was beside the point, and praised the novel as Cheever's “deepest, most challenging book.” And finally a synthesis of sorts was found in Anatole
Broyard's New Republic review, which suggested that the book was a little too fraught with oddities, that Cheever had apparently gotten carried away by his own virtuosity: “He is determined to be surprising or original, even at the cost of incredulity.” [p. 209, Bailey, CHEEVER: A LIFE]

John Gardner wrote a long vindication of the novel for the Times Book Review, declaring that its detractors had been “dead wrong”: “Bullet Park is a novel to pore over, move around in, live with. The image repetitions, the stark and subtle correspondences that create the book's ambiguous meaning, its uneasy courage and compassion, sink in and in, like a curative spell.” [p. 212, Bailey, CHEEVER: A LIFE]

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