Updike Redux

Our suburban Henry Miller

Our suburban Henry Miller

John Updike’s literary stock, amazingly, fluctuates up and down. He was our disguised, suburban Henry Miller. He wasn’t interested in becoming a persona in his work, but he opened up the eroticism of the 60s and 70s. Some critics and writers rate him below his peers, usually citing his lack of angst, the jewel-like prose, and the ease with which his massive body of 26 novels, 18 short story collections, 12 collections of poetry, 4 children’s books, and 12 collections of non-fiction flowed from his pen. His fictional landscape has no peer, covering as it does detailed reports of American, white middle-class consciousness. His public persona and mild manners were camouflage for a deeply romantic, sexually aroused soul, which Adam Begley captures in a new biography, Updike. Also, here’s an interview with Begley, whose book has received tremendous reviews. I can’t wait for a volume of Updike letters. Updike clearly deserved the Nobel Prize for Literature, but, alas, for many people in the literary game it takes decades to see the true meaning of a writer’s work. Unfortunately, he, Mailer and Roth were not honoured, but their work, along with Bellow’s, will stand with the books of the earlier American greats: Hemingway, Faulkner, Fitzgerald… The last century of American literature overflowed with great writers who showed us America.

Begley is good on Updike’s prose style: “Aside from his enormous talents and Protestant work ethic, Updike’s defining characteristic is his signature style, which he owes to his desire to be a graphic artist, and to his stunningly visual memory. Like Proust, like Nabokov and like Henry Green, all of whom influenced him, Updike wrote sentences that work through the precise meeting of visual detail and verbal accuracy.”

See also this essential review of Begley’s biography, and Updike’s persona, by Louis Menand in The New Yorker here.

 

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