January 27, 2009

John Updike has died.


What have you read and what have thought about, reading John Updike?

ADDED: "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu":
Fenway Park, in Boston, is a lyric little bandbox of a ballpark. Everything is painted green and seems in curiously sharp focus, like the inside of an old-fashioned peeping-type Easter egg. It was built in 1912 and rebuilt in 1934, and offers, as do most Boston artifacts, a compromise between Man's Euclidean determinations and Nature's beguiling irregularities. Its right field is one of the deepest in the American League, while its left field is the shortest; the high left-field wall, three hundred and fifteen feet from home plate along the foul line, virtually thrusts its surface at right-handed hitters. On the afternoon of Wednesday, September 28th, as I took a seat behind third base, a uniformed groundkeeper was treading the top of this wall, picking batting-practice home runs out of the screen, like a mushroom gatherer seen in Wordsworthian perspective on the verge of a cliff....
(K*thy in the comments says: "A gem and one of the best and most famous pieces of baseball writing ever.")


Zachary Paul Sire said...

I loved "A&P"

Henry said...

He was a fine art critic. I haven't read any of his fiction or poetry in decades but I have read his essays on art as I came across them.

Here is Updike on "What is American about American Art".

Smilin' Jack said...

I've read most of his novels and stories--he was so prolific it was hard to keep up. Reading Updike you think about all of life, because he covered it all. It's a disgrace he never won the Nobel.

chuck b. said...

John Updike's short stories made me laugh.

I read an anthology of his during the summer between high school and college.

I got a particularly bad sunburn that year.

In a moment of 17 year old perversity (well, okay, a lifetime) I pressed several large pieces of my peeled skin into his pages and used it as a bookmark.

I forgot about it by the time I took that book and a box of others in to the used bookstore for trade a few summers later.

Zachary Paul Sire said...

He didn't like women very much.

author, etc. said...

A towering figure in American literature. I met him twice and have two signed books to show for it. Gracious, shy (seemingly, though it was clearly a way of putting others at ease), he found a way to say something complimentary to strangers on really the scantiest evidence.

As for his writing: nothing against Roth or Bellow or Mailer or Oates (other great "career" writers of his approximate generation), but his breadth of mind and sympathy and subject matter (and probably, in my case, a certain ingrained receptiveness to his "white Protestant suburban maleness") put him at the very top for me. He'll be read as long as books are read.

I'm really sad about this.

Meade said...

"That's policy for you. Policy is what the kingpins want. What the others want is juvenile delinquency."

David said...

Updike and I had a few things in common: we lived in small Pennsylvania communities in our youth and we had admirable fathers. Beyond that, I had to bow to a superior being.

Given his output, with everything of laudable or exceptional quality, he must have had a prodigious work ethic and amazing concentration. I loved his essays and criticism. He always brought more to a topic than you would think possible, and he seemed able to write on any subject.

It was said that Ted Williams never had a bad at bat. Updike was the same with his short stories. They were always very good, often great, and crafted with an expert hand. He probably knew more about the short story than anyone. Pick up any of his short stories, and start reading anywhere in the story, and you will be entranced.

I read the first three of the Rabbit novels. Never got to the fourth for some reason. They were superb, and Rabbit was about as fully realized a fictional character as you will ever find.

Updike will probably be remembered best for the Rabbit novels and for his short stories (if there are short stories in the future), but I thought Couples was his best novel. It was scandalous at the time, but the characters are so sad and earnest and their struggles so sweetly jadedly doomed that it's very powerful emotionally.

I still pick up Updike stories regularly. I have not read a novel of his for a decade or so, as for some reason I seem to have stopped reading novels. I will have to read some of them now. I admire so much that he kept producing even after his public light had faded. And now it is gone for good.

David said...

Smilin' Jack: "Reading Updike you think about all of life, because he covered it all. " Amen, Jack.

jayne_cobb said...

Damn, that's a shame.

I actually lived less than a mile from the town in which he grew up. I wonder if they're going to do anything.

David said...

Is it obvious yet how much I loved Updike?

One of his characteristics was wariness of the opinionated (or at least those with unsupported opinion) and a sense of fairness. His six rules for reviewing books, which I quote below, gives a good sense of this:

1. Try to understand what the author wished to do, and do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt.

2. Give him enough direct quotation--at least one extended passage--of the book's prose so the review's reader can form his own impression, can get his own taste.

3. Confirm your description of the book with quotation from the book, if only phrase-long, rather than proceeding by fuzzy precis.

4. Go easy on plot summary, and do not give away the ending. (How astounded and indignant was I, when innocent, to find reviewers blabbing, and with the sublime inaccuracy of drunken lords reporting on a peasants' revolt, all the turns of my suspenseful and surpriseful narrative! Most ironically, the only readers who approach a book as the author intends, unpolluted by pre-knowledge of the plot, are the detested reviewers themselves. And then, years later, the blessed fool who picks the volume at random from a library shelf.)

5. If the book is judged deficient, cite a successful example along the same lines, from the author's ouevre or elsewhere. Try to understand the failure. Sure it's his and not yours?

To these concrete five might be added a vaguer sixth, having to do with maintaining a chemical purity in the reaction between product and appraiser. Do not accept for review a book you are predisposed to dislike, or committed by friendship to like. Do not imagine yourself a caretaker of any tradition, an enforcer of any party standards, a warrior in an idealogical battle, a corrections officer of any kind. Never, never (John Aldridge, Norman Podhoretz) try to put the author "in his place," making him a pawn in a contest with other reviewers. Review the book, not the reputation. Submit to whatever spell, weak or strong, is being cast. Better to praise and share than blame and ban. The communion between reviewer and his public is based upon the presumption of certain possible joys in reading, and all our discriminations should curve toward that end."

dbp said...

In never could get through the Rabbit novels, they were too dated by the time I got to them.

I started with "Roger's Version" and then read a bunch more: "S" was brilliant and a lot like "A Month of Sundays" in that they both had an intersting gimmic. "The Witches of Eastwick", I thought was very funny and enjoyable too.

William said...

I read two or three of his novels and some of his critical pieces in The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books. I respected his intelligence and professionalism, but I cannot remember ever being dazzled by a graceful phrase or an illuminating point he scored. Mailer said that he didn't think Updike was any great shakes as a writer, but that he, Updike had made more of his talent than he, Mailer, ever did....I don't know if this is part of a writer's talent, but Mailer certainly had a greater ability to annoy or outrage than Updike. I think of the big writers of his generation--Roth, Bellow, Mailer, Vonnegut--he made the least impression on me. This is probably more of a criticism of me than of Updike. He seems to have been a thoroughly decent person.

author, etc. said...

Last line of the story, "Pigeon Feathers." The adolescent farm boy David marvels at the multicolored feathers of a dead pigeon as he prepares to bury it in the ground:

". . . with a feminine, slipping sensation along his nerves that seemed to give the air hands, he was robed in this certainty: that the God who had lavished such craft upon these worthless birds would not destroy His whole Creation by refusing to let David live forever."

The story was published in 1959 when Updike was 27. David wouldn't live forever, of course.

David said...

Updike didn't like women?

More accurately, some women did not like him. Updike could live happily with out the sunlight of female adulation, and was not very impressed with the grievances of educated and affluent modern American women. This made him unpopular in certain circles.

k*thy said...

A gem and one of the best and most famous pieces of baseball writing ever, "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu".

Thank you.

Skeptical said...

Once in a while,
As a gag, he dribbles an inner tube,
But most of us remember anyway.


rhhardin said...

Thurber, in ``What Are the Leftists Saying?'' at a party:

The main point at issue here -- namely, the analysis of Sinclair Lewis -- becomes even more blurred by the fact that a critic named Kyle Forsythe, who has just come into the room, gets the erroneous notion that everybdoy is discussing Upton Sinclair. He begins, although it is not at all relevant, to talk about ``escapism.''

Original George said...

The meanwhile, let us live as islanders
Who pluck what fruit the lowered branch proffers.
Each passing moment masks a tender face;
Nothing has had to be, but is by Grace.
Attend to every sunset; greet the dawn
That combs with spears of shade the glistening lawn.
Enjoy the risen morning, upright noon,
Declining day, and swollen leprous moon.
Observe the trees, those clouds of breathing leaf;
Their mass transcends the insect’s strident grief.
The forest holds a thousand deaths, yet lives;
The lawn accepts its coat of bone and gives
Next spring a sweeter, graver tone of green.
Gladly, the maple seed spins down, between
Two roots extends a tendril, grips beneath
The soil, and suffers the mower’s spinning teeth.
Nothing is poorly made, nothing is dull:
The crabgrass thinks itself adorable.
Cherish your work; take profit in the task:
Doing the one’s a reward a Man dare ask
The Wood confides its secrets to the plane:
The Dovetail fits, and reconfirms the Grain....

The merciful Creator hid His Aims.
Beware of the Gods: The Infallible Man,
The flawless formula, the Five-Year Plan.
Abjure bandwagons; be shy of machines,
Charisma, Ends that justify the Means....

Half-measures are not human; compromise,
Inglorious and gray, placates the Wise....

Our bones are prison-bars, our flesh is cells:
Where Suicide invites, Death-wish impels...

The grassy Earth spins seed from solar rage,
And patiently denies its awful age.
I am another world, no doubt; no doubt
We come into this World from well without.
The seasons lessen; Summer's touch betrays
A tired haste, a cool Autumnal trace.
The playground dust was richer, once, than loam,
And green, green as Eden, the slow path home.
No snow have been as deep as those my sled
Caressed to ice before I went to bed.
Perhaps Senility will give me back
The primitive rapport I lately lack.
Adulthood has its comforts: These entail
Sermons and sex and receipt of the mail,
Elimination’s homely paean, dreams’
Mad gaiety, avoidance of extremes,
The friendship of children, the trust of banks,
Thoracic pangs, a stiffness in the shanks,
Foretastes of death, the aftertaste of sin,
In Winter, Whisky, and in Summer, Gin....

Art offers now, not cunning and exile,
But blank explosions and a hostile smile.
Deepest in the thicket, thorns spell a word.
Born laughing, I've believed in the Absurd,
Which brought me this far; henceforth, if I can
I must impersonate a serious man.

-From "Midpoint"

traditionalguy said...

Updike was a profound observer of people and of his own reactions to life. But you did not get the impression that he was a full participant in it himself, only a beautiful reporter of truths he observed.I suppose that made him a literalist disguised as a poet. I believe that I would have greatly enjoyed his converstion about any subject.RIP Rabbit.

Original George said...

Long Shadow

Crossing from a chore as the day
was packing it in, I saw my long shadow
walking before me, bearing in the tilt
of its thin head autumnal news,
news broadcast red from the woods to the west,
the goldleaf woods of shedding branch and days
drawing in like a purse being cinched,
the wintry houses sealed and welcoming.

Why do we love them, these last days of something
like summer, of freedom to move in few clothes,
though frost has flattened the morning grass?
They tell us we shall live forever. Stretched
like a rainbow across day’s end, my shadow
makes a path from my feet; I am my path.


Meade said...

Mr. Updike said, ''A good relationship is one in which it's understood that there's a limit to what can be communicated and what can be shared. All of our earthly signals are just, well, they're gestures, and hints, but there's always going to be a lot that can't be said, a certain amount that shouldn't be said. I think that tact, which operates in our superficial social relations, also really has to operate at the most intimate level, that one is tactful even in the paroxysms of amorous bliss, that there's a certain large amount of the unsaid. But one can feel that and still try to communicate.''

Bird rock said...

I'm currently reading The Widows of Eastwick. I'm only about 20 pages in but I like it so far. Though I should have reread The Witches of Eastwick before picking this up.

I read his Wikipedia bio yesterday. I had forgotten that he was a Harvard grad.

His work is much less flashy than that of so many of his peers. And that's why I love it so. It has the ring of truth. Thanks and bless you, Mr. Updike.

William said...

Original George: That would have been a good poem for Obama's inaugral.

Christy said...

You all make him sound like someone I must read. I suppose I'd lumped him with Bellow and Roth, who 30 years ago didn't resonate at all for me, and so I never tried his work. Time changes perspectives and a recent Roth opened me up to trying more of the writers I'd avoided earlier, but one cannot help but notice that all the lovely paeans are coming from men. Then ZPS tells us he didn't like women, and David makes him sound downright hostile. If I read and dislike him will I forever be defined as one of those whiny women with grievances to be dismissed by all right thinking men? How totally unappealing the very idea of reading Updike now sounds!

Curtiss said...

Maybe Blago will quote Updike next.

Original George said...


Tendrilous cloudlet in nakedness’s sheer sky:
welcome mat gathered where the flowing body forks
and makes known its crux: wave-crest upon the shoal
where exaltedness founders and foamingly sinks:
bull’s-eye where even the absent-minded arrow home:

forest concealing the hunted that is itself:
lair and prey and predator at once, sly fur
and Arcanum, fragrant of woodfern and mossmulch,
furtive in its underbrush, fine nerves alert
yet asleep in the fitness of whatever is heaven made:

….remainder, reminder of all that is animal:
dregs at the V of the torso’s white wineglass,
concentrate, essence, summary, footnote,
addendum that cancels, in Gothic black letter,
Platonic misreadings of the belly’s bland text:

concealer of lips, like a mustache, netherly,
Feathery, tentative, tendermost, utterly
underhand-holdable: grace, veil and tracer, mane,
vague mass, forbidding mask, dark witticism, witty touch,
Grail, doe’s tail, shy signal, and mere mystery:…

Your pussy, it is my pet, it is my altar, totaliter
aliter: unknowable, known, and wild, subdued.


onscrn said...

Zachary Paul Sire said..."
"He didn't like women very much."

I don't get that at all.

I'm sad to hear of his passing. I liked his short stories better than his novels, but he was one of the best American writers ever. Guess I'll honor his memory by pulling a book of his short stories (Musuems and Women, maybe) off the the shelf to read.

Bird rock said...

I'm a woman - and I like his work very much. To say he doesn't like women is baffling. Now if you want to read a real misogynist, try Mailer. On second thought, don't.

Anthony said...

Tossing and Turning

The spirit has infinite facets, but the body confiningly few sides.
There is the left,
the right, the back, the belly, and tempting in-betweens, northeasts and northwests,
that tip the heart and soon pinch circulation in one or another arm.
Yet we turn each time
with fresh hope, believing that sleep will visit us here, descending like an angel down the angle our flesh’s sextant sets,
tilted toward that unreachable star
hung in the night between our eyebrows, whence dreams and good luck flow.
your ankles. Unclench your philosophy. This bed was invented by others; know we go to sleep less to rest than to participate
in the twists of another world.
This churning is our journey.
It ends,
can only end, around a corner we do not know
we are turning.

Kirby Olson said...

I loved the Rabbit series, especially the first one. It's the visits to the Lutheran pastor, but also after he shacks up with the ho and then on sunday morning sees his family going to church out the ho's window.

I like the final scene in book four on the basketball court.

Another great novel is In the Beauty of the Lilies. The first hundred pages with the pastor who's become an encyclopedia salesman set in Paterson when it is still a functional textile manufacturing center is powerful and dense. It never attains that level again, but it's great. He's vying with WCW, and getting points.

I'll miss Updike! I had hoped he would plug my novel, Temping.

If I had been Ginsberg or someone with pluck I'd have stood on his porch, or done something to get his attention. But I sent it care of his publicity agent, and I imagine it never made it past that.

Kirby Olson said...

Another great ex-Lutheran died recently: father Richard Neuhaus, editor of First Things.

I wonder if Updike and Neuhaus ever met one another?

John Burgess said...

Updike taught me all I needed to know--and more!--about suburban angst.

Grace Metalious did it in a more amusing manner.

Updike, though, did a better job of stringing words together into a poetic whole.

bearbee said...

I read Rabbit Run sooooo many years ago.

The comments here is one reason why I enjoy reading this site.

He will receive no better eulogy.

Rest in peace John Updike.

David said...

Christy--Updike wasn't hostile to much of anything except cruelty and violence, just indifferent to certain things that others took very seriously.. I am sorry if I made him sound hostile to women. I did not intend to. Nor do I think he was.

Updike was of an older school. He readily admitted that the world had passed him by in some respects. Unlike many writers, he did not have to depend on academic appointments (or academic critics) to make a living. He made a good living as a writer from age 27.

Not being of, in or dependent upon academia, he never absorbed most of the newer and more overtly politicized ways of thinking of gender. In an interview a few years ago, he acknowledged that he wrote The Witches of Eastwick partly in response to the feminist criticism that he did not have much interest in powerful, full blooded female characters. Then he noted, ruefully, that feminists did not seem to like Witches much either.

He did not make this statement in a critical or resentful way--just a statement of fact. "They're over there, I'm over here. So be it."

The writer I find most like Updike is Alice Munro. She is even better at the craft of the short story but her interests--at least in terms of what she likes to write--never have ranged as far as Updike's. Munro can write about men better than Updike could about women, I guess, but I think they share the characteristic of wanting to tell the story rather than make some point about society.

I would also say of Alice Munro that she is not particularly impressed with the grievances of modern {North] American women. That does not make her hostile, I think, unless you must embrace a group's or person's grievances in order to avoid being tagged as antagonistic.

I would feel badly if my comments had any impact in causing you to avoid reading Updike. I can not guarantee that you will like his work, but I for one will not dismiss you as whiny or anything else if you don't.

Chet said...


Smilin' Jack said...

I haven't read that much of his poetry, but as a physicist I always appreciated this one:

Ode to Crystallization

John Updike

The atom is a crystal
of a sort; the lattices
its interlockings form
lend a planarity most pleasing
to the abysses and cliffs, much magnified,
of (for example) salt and tourmaline.
Arise order,
out of necessity!
Mock, you crystals,
with all appearance of chiselled design,
our hope of a Grand Artificer.
The graceful, layered frost-ferns the midnight elves
left on the Shillington windowpanes
for my morning astonishment were misinformation,
as is
the glittering explosion of tinted quartz
discovered in earth like a nugget of thought,
buried evidence
crying out for release to the workman's pick,
tangled hexagonal hair of an angel interred
where it fell, our earth still molten, in the Fall.
When, on those anvils at the center of stars,
and those even more furious anvils
of the exploding supernovae,
the heavy elements were beaten together
to the atomic number of 94
and the crystalline metals with their easily lost
valence electrons arose,
their malleability and conductivity
made Assyrian goldsmithing possible
and most of New York City.

Stendhal thought that love
should be likened to a bare branch crystallized
by a winter in the depths of the salt mines of Hallein:
"The tiniest twigs, no bigger
than a tomtit's claw, are spangled with an infinite
number of shimmering, glistening crystals."
Our mathematics and hope of Heaven
alike look to crystals;
their arising, the mounting
of molecules one upon the other, suggests
that inner freezing whereby inchoate
innocence compresses a phrase of art.
Music rises in its fixed lattices
and its cries of aspiration chill our veins
with snowflakes of blood;
the mind grapples up an inflexible relation
and the stiff spheres chime--
themselves, the ancients thought, all crystal.
In this seethe of hot muck there is something else:
the ribs of an old dory emerge from the sand,
the words set their bevelled bite on the page,
the loved one's pale iris flares in silent assent,
the electrons leap, leaving positive ions
as the fish scales of moonlight show us water's perfect dance.
Steno's Law, crystallography's first:
the form of crystal admits no angle but its own.

David said...

The link that Chet posted a little above this one has a fabulous recent essay about /interview with Updike. Among other things, it show's Updike's decency, honesty and humility.

Here's a quote, Updike talking about Rabbit:

In many ways, Rabbit himself is a study in self-interest, embodying the worst aspect of the American dream of self-fulfilment, of doing it 'my way' - whatever the cost, a philosophy summed up in his belief that 'if you have the guts to be yourself, other people pay the price'. . . . My idea in Rabbit, Run is that if everybody follows their dream there'd be a lot of damage -"

Christy said...

Thanks for the feedback, David. I like baseball, so I'll begin by following K*thy to "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu."

Christy said...

BTW, The Guardian, a favorite site for books if not politics, has set up a rather nice John Updike page with links to reviews and such.

David said...

I like baseball too Christy. Plus I'm so old that I remember the day that Updike wrote about in his essay about Williams.

Revenant said...

What have you read and what have thought about, reading John Updike?

Not a darn thing, on both counts. :)

Original George said...


Here's your chance.....

The Beautiful Bowel Movement


author, etc. said...

More Updike:

And another regrettable thing about death
is the ceasing of your own brand of magic,
which took a whole life to develop and market-
the quips, the witticisms, the slant
adjusted to a few, those loved ones nearest
the lip of the stage, their soft faces blanched
in the footlight glow, their laughter close to tears,
their warm pooled breath in and out with your heartbeat,
their response and your performance twinned.
The jokes over the phone. The memories packed
in the rapid-access file. The whole act.
Who will do it again? That's it: no one;
imitators and descendants aren't the same.

--The poem is called "Perfection Wasted," but of course in his case it wasn't.

Mark Daniels said...

I read the Rabbit books years ago. They were OK. But what I remember him most for is an appearance on the Cavett show with John Cheever. I can't find it on Youtube.

amba said...

Really funny to read "Pussy" and then immediately read, "He didn't like women very much."

What a gorgeous tribute!

Here's a quote that has stayed with me.

amba said...

Also, talk about exquisite evocations of things sexual, I can't forget this story:

Owen would afterward associate Elsie with the inside of a car—its stale velour, its little dim dashboard lights, its rubber floormats and chill metallic surfaces. Chilly at first: after they’d been driving around for hours, the heater made a torrid alcove in the dark. On dates, they took his parents’ stuffy prewar Chevy. His father was generally home from work by six, and Owen was granted the car for the roaming that is, in common American wisdom, a teen-ager’s right.

At first, there was only kissing, on and on, eyes closed to admit behind sealed lids a flood of other sensations, an expansion of consciousness into a salty, perfumed space quite unlike the hushed and headlong vault of masturbation. In the dark seclusion between cool tight sheets, his parents’ muttering having died away, he would seem for some seconds to stand on his head, having discovered with his left hand a faithful mechanism impossibly sweet, a clench that took him back to infancy, its tight knit of newness before memories overlaid the bliss of being. Into this private darkness had come another, another seeker, and what was being found, clumsily yet unstoppably, was a core self explored by another consciousness. Elsie was both witness and witnessed. Her eyes were the wet, honey-tinged brown of horehound drops. By the particles of light that entered through the windshield, he saw the dark dents of her dimples when she smiled, and the side of one eyeball gleam as she studied him across a gap that closed in a few seconds. Huddled beside him on the front seat, a bench seat in that era, with her back gouged by the knob of the window crank and her calves and ankles roasted by the heater, she seemed cupped to receive him, a nest of growing permissions. With each date, she gave him an inch or two more of herself that he could claim as his henceforth; there was no taking back these small territories. Beyond kissing, there was so much to touch, so many hooks and tricks among the catches and aromatic coverings, there in the shelter of the car, which sometimes was her car, for, though a year younger than he, she also had a driver’s license . . .

Thrusting himself into the public space outside the automobile, where adult morality pressed down from the stars, he opened and shut the Chrysler’s passenger door (it made that sucky rich rattle-free sound) and scuttled around the broad chrome bumper and white-walled rear tires hunched over, for he already had an erection. Even behind his fly it felt scarily as if it might snag on something, until he settled behind her father’s steering wheel, which wore a su├Ęde cover. The tang of the new-car smell was warmed into freshness by the heat of their bodies. As he slid across the front seat, wide enough for three, into the space where she huddled, the distant light illumined her blurred face and a small pearl earring and the fuzzy wool of her short-sleeved angora sweater. She let him slide the sweater up and sneak a finger into her bra and stroke the silky skin there, the gentle fatty rise of it. Though Elsie was plump, her breasts were small, as if still developing. When he had advanced to taking off her bra and pushing the sweater way up, her chest seemed hardly different from his own; a breast of hers in his hand felt as delicate as a tear bulging in his eye.

Read the whole thing.

bearbee said...

Just came across this, Updike writing about the death of his dog:

Another Dog’s Death
Collected Poems, 1953-1993
by John Updike

"For days the good old bitch had been dying, her back pinched down to the spine and arched to ease the pain, her kidneys dry, her muzzle white. At last I took a shovel into the woods and dug her grave

in preparation for the certain. She came along, which I had not expected. Still, the children gone,
such expeditions were rare, and the dog, spayed early, knew no nonhuman word for love.

She made her stiff legs trot and let her bent tail wag. We found a spot we liked, where the pines met the field. The sun warmed her fur as she dozed and I dug;
I carved her a safe place while she protected me.

I measured her length with the shovel’s long handle;
she perked in amusement, and sniffed the heaped-up earth.
Back down at the house, she seemed friskier, but gagged, eating. We called the vet a few days later.

They were old friends. She held up a paw, and he injected a violet fluid. She swooned on the lawn;
we watched her breathing quickly slow and cease. In a wheelbarrow up to the hole, her warm fur shone."

Original George said...

A two-page obituary for Mr. Updike in today's New York Times.

Think of it: This, for a writer who was never on Oprah, who was never the object of salacious press, who supported the Vietnam War, whose interior decorations were never the object of a feature in House Beautiful, who wrote mostly about middle-class white folks in imaginary small New England towns.

I imagine he's enjoying buttered toast and jelly with E.B. White in the Heavenly Cafe. Mark Twain slides into the booth with a welcoming flask. He spikes the coffee with booze. I bet the cigars are good, too.

ballyfager said...

Although I very much enjoyed the Rabbit books, I thought Couples was his best work.

As to Mailer dissing Updike, Mailer should have learned somewhere along the line not to criticize his betters.

Joe said...

Am I the only one who found his writing horribly pretentious and intolerable after only a few seconds (the long excerpt above being proof)?

RR Ryan said...

Mark-That's funny; the first thing that came to mind, aside from the Rabbit books was, "The Swimmer". I couldn't remember whether it was Cheever or Updike. As for the rest of his generation's writers, it generally seemed they only had one or two books in them and then rewrote them over and over. See especially Didion. I still enjoy Roth's, "When She Was Good", though. For that matter I still like a couple of Didion's essay collections. I never could stand Mailer, though. Not that anyone asked.

amba said...

Am I the only one who found his writing horribly pretentious and intolerable

You could certainly say that it can be precious, and as tightly detailed as marquetry or embroidery. It's the kind of writing that says "Look at me, I'm writing!" as opposed to the Hemingway style which works very hard at not appearing written. And it's a kind of writing that is no longer in fashion.

But it's worth it, to me, to arrive at an image like

a breast of hers in his hand felt as delicate as a tear bulging in his eye.

The poem about the dog's death is beautiful and simple.

amba said...

Dogs bring out the best in people.

Meade said...

So many great comments here. I'm grateful for the education.

RR Ryan said...

If you find Updike enjoyable, try JP Marquand. A lot of his books were made into popular movies, but he's largely fallen out of favor. Also Booth Tarkenton(he wrote The Magnificent Ambersons on which Orson Welles based his movie of the same name). And Barbara Pym.

author, etc. said...

Loved this self-overview from Updike, offered in an interview while in his late-thirties:

"Domestic fierceness within the middle class, sex and death as riddles for the thinking animal, social existence as sacrifice, unexpected pleasures and rewards, corruption as a kind of evolution--these are some of my themes. I have tried to achieve objectivity in the form of narrative. My work is meditation, not pontification."

Robert Stone said...

POSTMODERN DECONSTRUCTION MADHOUSE Our main focus is on Saul Bellow, John Updike, and Don DeLillo, but we wander off the reservation frequently. NOTE Any quotes from copyrighted works on this blog are for scholarly purposes only and quoted under the Fair Use Act.