Good… Er, Decent Company?

“Also, [John Cheever’s mother] had a ‘primitive horror of being photographed,’ such that her own son had little idea what she’d looked like as a younger woman until, one day, he discovered her portrait in an old Woman’s Club program; when asked about it, she explained that her look of composure had been managed by holding her infant son––John himself––on her lap.  (‘I was cropped’).*  At the time, it might have seemed liek so much winsome eccentricity, but it was less amusing later, when Cheever himself became a virtual prisoner of anxiety.  ‘I blame her, I do,’ he wrote a week after her death in 1956, ‘for having conveyed some of her morbid fears to me.’

“*A home movie survives from the thirties or forties in which Cheever’s mother is seen walking briskly past the camera with a tight smile.  When the photographer persists, she thrusts a hand toward the lends.  One thinks of Honora Wapshot: ‘In all the family albums she appeared either with her back to the camera as she ran away or with her face concealed by her hands, her handbag, her hat or a newspaper.”

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