In memorium: John Updike

It just hit me, I heard John Updike interviewed on the radio just the other day for he had written a sequel to The Witches of Eastwick. I was interested to hear that he has been criticized for not writing strong female characters. His Eastwick books were an attempt to remedy the criticism that his “women are never on the move, that they’re always stuck where the men have put them.” His “only defense,” he said, “would be that it’s in the domesticity, the family, the sexual relations, that women interest me…”  I can buy that, personally.  We write what we’re passionate about and he left “IT” to others; I wonder:  Why, in today’s Politically Correct times, do we expect EVERYTHING to be laden with message?  I don’t have the answer, I’m just posing the question.

Mr. Updike wrote what he knew, what he liked.  I liked his gritty take on what he called “the middles.”

“My subject is the American Protestant small-town middle class,” Mr. Updike told Jane Howard in a 1966 interview for Life magazine. “I like middles,” he continued. “It is in middles that extremes clash, where ambiguity restlessly rules.”

Were I to die, no one would say,

“Oh, what a shame!

So young, so full

Of promise — depths unplumbable!”

Instead, a shrug and tearless eyes

Will greet my overdue demise;

The wide response will be, I know,

“I thought he died a while ago.”

For life’s a shabby subterfuge,

And death is real, and dark, and huge.

The shock of it will register

Nowhere but where it will occur.


I will most remember Mr. Updike for his opinions, though so easily forgotten because they were prolific; the essays, book reviews, art criticism, reminiscences, introductions, forewords, prefaces, speeches, travel notes, film commentary, prose sketches, and ruminations.

He also wrote more than 25 novels and dozens of books of short stories.  He was best known for his Rabbit series (Rabbit, Run; Rabbit Redux; Rabbit Is Rich; Rabbit At Rest; and Rabbit Remembered) which I have never read. Both Rabbit is Rich and Rabbit at Rest received the Pulitzer Prize.  I will have to check these out.

“To give the mundane its beautiful due.”  Not a bad life purpose I say.

Excerpts taken from The New York Times online.

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