Updike

Reading some tributes to John Updike and some reviews. Not so sure that I want to read the Rabbit novels after this comment from Robert Taubman in the LRB:

I wouldn’t hold sentimentality against a writer, but he must be careful about the company it keeps. Harry’s moments of illumination are edgily close to Updike’s more malicious ones, like the revelation of the father’s buttocks. A moment after thinking of babies’ souls, Rabbit thinks that what he really wants is ‘to have Cindy arrange herself in the pose of one of those Penthouse sluts on a leopard skin and get down in front of her on all fours and just eat and eat and eat’. This isn’t unnatural of Rabbit, but Updike is too fond of the literary game of juxtapositions, and it reduces his characters to abject helplessness. The juxtapositions may be droll, cheeky, disagreeable, or just nullifying: but what they don’t do is give any depth to the novel.

Harry ‘Rabbit” Angstrom, the everyman of American fiction. What I find interesting about him is that, apart from being Updike’s most successful character, it seems to be the one that he most identified with. Updike used the novels, published at the end of the each decade, as “a running report on the state of my hero and his nation”. How the character developed is also worth noting. Previously, he wrote a short story entitled Ace in the Hole, and also a poem, Ex-Basketball Player, with similar themes to Rabbit, Run.

It’s funny to consider that, when it was published in 1960, Rabbit, Run was considered a “biting critique” of 1959 America.

Rabbit might not be very deep but he’s ‘real’.

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7 Responses to Updike

  1. coffee says:

    the loss of John Updike makes me wonder if the literary world is being replenished at the same rate that it’s losing such great writers

  2. Pete says:

    Coffee – Hi. I’m sure there are lots of excellent novelists out there hoping for half the kind of recognition that Updike enjoyed. Thanks to the internet, we’re also exposed to many more voices as well. But he was a great and he will be missed.

  3. Evie says:

    I have read very little Updike and the little I have read has never grabbed me. I guess I’m not that interested in adultery in American suburbia (though his books may have challenged orthodox thinking in the 50s and 60s), and I there’s a little too much uncomfortable misogyny in his writing for me as well. I was still saddened to hear of his death though, it seems strange that there won’t be anything new from Updike once his latest short story collection is published.

    On an unrelated note, as an Australian cricket tragic, I’d just like to congratulate the South Africans on their #1 ranking in ODI cricket. Well played and all for the good of the game :).

  4. seachanges says:

    I have always had mixed feelings about Updike: great writer, absolutely but perhaps not someone I feel comfortable with and not someone on the top of my reading list at anyone time. Why not? Well, there is the mysogyny and as someone above says, it’s the world that he is engrossed with, the small town America that does not appeal to me that much… Ooops, have I put my foot into it now??

  5. Pete says:

    Evie – Of course, now that he’s dead, Updike will get all the more attention. But I’m interested to read your misgivings about mysogyny in his novels. When I do get round to Rabbit I’ll be reading it with that in mind. As for the cricket, yes it’s great that an SA team are no 1 for a change. But I’ll be interested to see how the Aussies bounce back.

    Seachanges – No, not at all. I think you have to be in a particular frame of mind for small-town America. Entertaining, engrossing, enlightening but of course limiting. I’m happy to see (admittedly very good) writers such as Updike not at the forefront of reading lists. Perhaps what I’d prefer is an analysis of Rabbit rather than Rabbit himself.

  6. Bee says:

    Funnily enough, I bought Rabbit, Run a couple of days before Updike died. (Borders was doing some American classics thing.) I’ve read lots of his work, but not the novels so closely associated with him. I don’t find him misogynistic, but I will think about that as I read the book.

    BTW, with so many book recommendations always circulating on the blogosphere, my book pile grows and grows!

  7. Pete says:

    Bee – Yes, please let us know what you think. I’m worried now that I’ve posted on Updike without actually having read him. And yay for the growing book pile!

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