Updike the acrobat

Hard to believe that we won’t be getting more collections of essays, or despatches from the frontlines of middle class suburbia from John Updike, that great man of American letters. It’s been five years since his passing and his new biography by Adam Begley should be a reminder of this great talent, the chronicler and touchstone for twentieth century American life.

updike

Not that there should be any great revelations, and not that there won’t be much to learn that we haven’t already heard from Updike himself. Trawl through his collections of reviews and his autobiography of sorts, Self Consciousness, and you get a fair measure of the man.

But, let’s just say, I miss him. Sure, he was a show off (in a very polished, polite sort of way). He was like an acrobat, he had a gift for putting together the most sparkling prose, as well as, from his first collection of reviews as a young writer, having an astonishing grasp of literature in all its breadth and depth. He freely admitted that the reviewer’s job is to construct an image of competency hurriedly with cardboard and sticky tape, but nevertheless his work displayed insight, wisdom, yes, arrogance, but also an infectious enthusiasm. Yet, amongst all this, there was a, dare I say, a dark side – a thoughtful Protestant lurking within who found that the shenanigans of suburbia masked an existential longing, and it is this undercurrent that makes his fiction so important.

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