John Updike

More than fifteen reflections on Updike, including novels, poetry, and essays by him and about him.

Updike at the Milwaukee Library - jsonline
I remember John Updike's name on some paperbacks in my parents' collection, and that weird title Rabbit Redux.  But all my reading from 8th grade through college brought me no closer to contemporary American fiction than Ernest Hemingway.  After that, my interest was Catholic writers.  So it was Flannery O'Connor who put me onto (Protestant) Updike: "He's the only truly religious writer today" she wrote to a friend around 1960, adding that she just skipped over the sexy parts.  I tried Rabbit is Rich, Updike's then-recent prize-winning best-seller, and was so put off by the crass car salesman and certain olfactory impressions of a cute teenaged girl in the back seat, that I quit after three pages.
Then came Roger's Version, around 1985.  Updike played with theology, science, academia, and The Scarlet Letter.  He won me over.  Most of my reflections on his work are handwritten, going back to the Reagan era, but here's what I've posted to this blog since 2006:
  • Everything I know and feel about Updike's writing is compressed in my response to his final book: Updike's Endpoint:  Light at Sunset  -  Biographer Adam Begley comments that Updike's last book was in some ways his best.   Updike strings together verse reflections on age, memories, family, and impending death, always with anecdotal detail and fanciful imagery, keeping a light tone.  
  • What Mattered Was Writing: Updike by Adam Begley - I reflect on what's left for the biographer to tell us when Updike told us everything again and again. 
  • Updike's Underappreciated Seek My Face - I'm most proud of this little essay, though a good chunk is lifted from someone else's review.  I fight for this underdog, so different from most of the other novels.
  • Updike's God Between the Lines: Roger's Version - I re-read this novel in 2013, being now older than the old title character.  The novel has aged well.
  • A Liturgy from Selected Writings of John Updike - Here's an oddity.  I melded the form of an evening service in the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer with passages from Updike's fiction and poetry that deal directly with theological questions. After reading Updike's reviews of books about two theologians, I ask Is Theology Just Inflated Self-Expression?
  • The Coup, Chapter One: Updike's Playground  -  I began to re-read this novel with great enthusiasm, and wrote about it before it suddenly cloyed. 
  • John Updike Live -  The author of this unusual book transcribes readings, interviews, and panel discussions that he witnessed as Updike's host during a visit to Cincinnati late in life.
  • The Updike Variations (reflecting on My Father's Tears and Other Stories) - Soon after reading all of Updike's early stories, I was primed to read the author's final turns on the same memories and themes.   It's benedictory, funny, sweet, and emotional.   
  • Updike's Magic Revisited at Eastwick   (review of The Widows of Eastwick) The sequel to Witches of Eastwick is naturally not so much fun, but artfully done and still emotionally satisfying.  Updike writes about age and cancer just before learning that his own nagging cold was lung cancer.
  • Updike's Witches  - Anticipating the publication of Widows, I re-re-read  Couples and the original Witches of Eastwick. I find a lot of cross-pollination in the two novels.  
  • More fun with Couples - Having re-read the book before, this time I skimmed it until I reached the climactic confrontation of couples, a scene that I analyze closely.  From Begley's biography, I've learned that this theatrically intense scene is close to what really happened to Updike, wife Mary, lover Joyce, and her husband.  Update: Eight years later, I took another look: Finding the Adult in the Adultery
  • Updike on Beauty: Refocusing the Eye of the Beholder  and Vermeer, Updike and Poetry Editorial - Confronted with others' statements about beauty and God, I turned in these two essays to observations made by Updike. 
  • Self-Consciousness, Updike's memoir, informs thoughts about the unconscious, memory, and meaning in an article I call Jung Over: Geography of the Self..
  • Updike's reviews helped me to appreciate the novels of Iris Murdoch.  Read about her in The Mind Plays Tricks.
Updike witnessed the 9/11 attacks from across the river, and wondered how someone could do something like that.  Terrorist was his answer.   Like any good fiction writer or actor, he got inside the mind of his character, though it's a young man whose alienation from contemporary America makes him vulnerable to political extremists. Updike's critics took "empathy" for "approval."  Stupid critics. I responded to what I read in the novel, and to what I read in others' commentary:

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