Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Thinking about John Updike

First, a confession. I haven't read a complete John Updike novel since high school. I read Rabbit Run and thought it was O.K. So I went on to Rabbit Redux. I was horrified by its depiction of adult life, with all its boredom and worries that one's best days are back in high school. I spent my high school days thinking, if these are the best years of my life, let me kill myself now. And here was Updike, telling me it could be worse?

During one adolescent summer when I was bored (say around 1981), I picked up Couples. I was hoping for a racy read, but once again, found myself repulsed by the characters. I couldn't fathom the sexual lives of Updike's characters. I much preferred the vision of sex offered by the racy romance novels that I read on a regular basis.

As an adult in midlife, I haven't gone back to revisit those novels. And I won't. Why plunge myself into existential despair? Life is short, and my reading time shorter.

Still, I've always appreciated Updike's views on writing. I've heard him talk in interviews through the years, and I've always felt like I learned something about the life of a writer. And he was so much older than I am that I never felt threatened as a fellow writer, never felt like Updike was my competition (unlike Henry Allen, who wrote an interesting Washington Post article on Updike here). Updike already inhabited a different universe, and a whole different set of questions interested him.

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