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Thursday, August 30, 2018

THE MIRROR MAN

Image result for JOHN UPDIKEJohn Updike doesn't create characters, just neurosis. That’s what I remember a dinner partner saying a while ago after we finished our deserts and now chatted away the remaining interests we shared. She was not a fan of novelist John Updike. I begged to differ, responding as follows, in a paraphrase of the actual words: Perhaps, but Updike has written much better novels. He's had his share of duds, but an unusually high proportion of his work is masterful, even brilliant. The Rabbit quartet, The Coup, Witches of Eastwick, Brazil, Beck: A Book, The Centaur, Roger's Version. I could go on. It's interesting, too, to note the high incidence of experimentation with narrative form and subject matter. Rabbit placed him with this image of being someone comically dwelling on the lapsed virtues of middle-aged East Coasters, ala John Cheever, (another writer I prize), but he has been all over the map so far as what he's written about and how he wrote about it. The career-long chronicling of men who thought they were driven by a superior purpose and moral clarity only to find themselves undermined by hunger, itches, instincts and unarticulated libidos remain, I think, one of the great accomplishments of  American writing. Although I've cooled on Updike lately--I've been reading him for thirty years--I can't dismiss him nor diminish his accomplishment. He is one of the untouchables. Besides, neurosis is character, and it's hardly a monochromatic shade. It's a trait that comes across in infinitely varied expressions, and we need someone who can artfully exploit their potential. 


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