updike: slow accretions of random detail

If J.D. Salinger reflected what the young would like to be, John Updike told us what people actually were….

Updike claimed he did this all by accident. Updike believed that “a writer’s business is not to write about his own time” but to express “the correct complexity and ambiguity of life.” If he finds his ambiguities in the young and old, it is because “they are the people I know; I don’t feel qualified to write about the middle-aged.” Of course that changed, but not the basic trajectory of Updike’s vision.

—There’s a discomfort about Updike. America is still new to its celebrity culture — we’ve never decided what to do with our veteran actors, athletes and writers. (Do we go on applauding them? Do we slip them a pension and get them away from our population centers?) When Updike comes up, so does a kind of sub-auditory impatience: He’s probably still the best word-by-word, thought-by-thought, sentence-by-sentence writer we have, but isn’t it time he moved on?—Read More:http://www.salon.com/2009/01/27/john_updike/

Updike grew up in Shillington, Pennsylvania, the only child of a high-school mathematics teacher, and he felt that the geographical accident of his birth- until he was eighteen and went to Harvard he had little experience of cities- perhaps made him a “throwback” to an earlier, less urban America. The additional accident of age exempted Updike from the wars and imposed on him a “rather quiet” life: a year’s postgraduate study (drawing) at oxford, two years as a staff writer for the New Yorker, followed by withdrawal with his wife and children to Ipswich, Massachusetts, the handsomely antiquated town from which he launched, among other achievements, his second novel, Rabbit Run.

—The Complete Henry Bech
Bech will never be as big as Rabbit, but nonetheless this award-winning Jewish writer with a weakness for the ladies is still one of Updike’s greatest creations, deftly revealing the author’s lighter, comic side. He first appeared in various short stories; this edition gathers together the compilations Bech: A Book, Bech is Back, and Bech at Bay. “Funny and satirical,” says Mullan.—Read More:http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/jan/28/john-updike-sutherland-mullan image:http://www.newyorksocialdiary.com/node/193849/print

Updike had this to say about Salinger in a review: “Few writers since Joyce would risk such a wealth of words upon events that are purely internal and deeds that are purely talk. We live a world, however, where the decisive deed may invite the holocaust, and Salinger’s conviction that our inner lives greatly matter peculiarly qualifies him to sing of an America where, for most of us, there seems little to do but to feel. Introversion, perhaps, has been forced upon history; an age of nuance, of ambiguous gestures and psychological jockeying on a national and private scale, is upon us, and Salinger’s intense attention to gesture and intonation help make him, among his contemporaries, a uniquely relevant literary artist. As Hemingway sought the words for things in motion, Salinger seeks the words for things transmuted into human subjectivity. His fiction, in its rather grim bravado, its humor, its morbidity, its wry but persistent hopefulness, matches the shape and tint of present American life. It pays the price, however, of becoming dangerously convoluted and static. …Read More:http://www.nytimes.com/1961/09/17/books/updike-by-salinger.html?_r=0

Updike’s deeds were not purely talk, but it was true that he had an inner-directed eye and that his tales moved forward not in a crescendo of climaxes, but by the slow accretion of small and apparently random detail. This could be seen from his first novel, The Poorhouse Fair, a remarkable evocation of the terrors and triumphs of old age; the “plot” has to do with the revolt of the inmates of a poor farm. Totaly unpremeditated, it grows like a malignant vine- a Pepsi-Cola truck rams a wall, rain falls, four old men share a pint of rye, revolt comes in a shower of stones directed at the Prefect’s retreating back. ( to be continued)…


(see link at end)…But he was a novelist at heart, and it was with the novel, along with the short story, that he would have his lasting, lifelong romance. This appears to have dawned on Updike slowly, but it was abundantly clear by the publication of his second novel, Rabbit, Run, the first volume of five that chronicled the life of Rabbit Angstrom, Updike’s great hero. Rather than a fictional alter ego, Angstrom was a vulgarian, a crass, lusty, middle-class salesman, through whom Updike anatomized and dramatized the great American spiritual and cultural crises of his generation….

…Also counted against him was his extraordinary productivity. He saw himself as more an artisan than an artist, and he produced nearly a book a year for much of his life — not just novels but short stories, book reviews, memoir and art criticism. His relentless curiosity sometimes led him to attempt experiments that were beyond his range: science fiction in Toward the End of Time, for example, and a retelling of the Hamlet story in Gertrude and Claudius. But at his very best, as in the Rabbit novels — two of which won Pulitzer Prizes — or his 1968 shocker, Couples, in which he dove fearlessly into the sexual revolution, he looked deeply and clearly into the swamps of human experience and reported back to us what he saw with a matchless precision and a warm, generous judgment.

ead more: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1874848,00.html#ixzz2D3anaGMy

This entry was posted in Feature Article, Ideas/Opinion, Literature/poetry/spoken word and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>