Frederick Exley comes up a couple times in the book. I know Jonathan Yardley's written a biography of him, but is he someone you've ever considered writing a book about?
In a word, yes. Because Yardley's book stinks—he interviewed only a handful of people and not very in-depth. It does not do justice to what is, for my money, an endlessly fascinating subject. I mean, you want someone who was a colossal fuck-up? The real mystery is how did Fred Exley write that book [A Fan's Notes]?
So, you might someday?
Dude, I've got Philip Roth on my hands! For years and years. Forget about it, I can't think ahead at this point.
Speaking of Roth, how different is it to write a biography of someone who's still alive?
There was a New York Times piece in 2007 by Rachel Donadio on whether it was wise to write about living subjects. And it was primarily about Ross Miller's arrangement with Philip Roth. The person they primarily interviewed for that piece to address the other perspective—that, no, you should never write about living subjects—was me [laughs]. It is hard enough to deal with a subject's estate, their family, their spouses—in Cheever's case, that was wonderful—than to have the actual person looking over your shoulder. All that said, so far it has been almost miraculously easy going.
When people nervously call Philip to ask if they should speak to me, or whether they should give me letters that he's written them, he abides by our written agreement, and he says, you tell him whatever you feel like telling him, or give him whatever you have. And in terms of my relationship with Philip, it could not be more jolly. He's a wonderful, charming person.
Speaking of Roth, head on over to the Paris Review and dig in.