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John Updike 1932-2009

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John Updike will always be one of my favorite writers. He wrote a dozen or more best-sellers, and could certainly be accused of pandering to the more lascivious tastes of contemporary readers. But in my mind he was the best writer on sex as commodity in American fiction, and he always brought an icy, contemplative chill to his sex scenes. If you got aroused during this stuff, you just weren't really paying attention.

His lasting legacy will probably be his four Rabbit novels -- Rabbit, Run, Rabbit Redux, Rabbit is Rich, and Rabbit at Rest -- one published at the end of the '50s, '60s, '70s, and '80s, respectively. I had a dad who was very much like Rabbit Angstrom -- former star athlete, insecure romantic, incessant salesman, serial adulterer, insufferable jerk. Reading those novels was like reading my family history. Rabbit was one of the most fully realized and complex characters in American literature, and I still marvel at the ways Updike was able to communicate the many facets of his personality. Now Updike himself is at rest. I'm thankful for his supremely moral vision and his always sparkling prose. May he rest in peace.

Edited by Andy Whitman

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Oh, no.

I've never read the Rabbit series, but I'll always remember ordering In the Beauty of the Lillies as a $1 QPB introductory selection, settling in for my first Updike book, and expecting a huge challenge. Then ... turned out the book was about religion (Calvinism!) and movies -- my two favorite subjects! It took a few years, but the reviewers started to mention the book favorably -- I would guess more favorably than they had when it first was released. However, I'm not sure if most of the initial reviews were tepid, and if so, whether the tide changed direction in subsequent years. The Internet was new then, and I didn't track critics' reactions beyond the Washington Post. But I suspect time has been kind to that novel.

Edited by Christian

"What matters are movies, not awards; experiences, not celebrations; the subjective power of individual critical points of view, not the declamatory compromises of consensus." - Richard Brody, "Godard's Surprise Win Is a Victory for Independent Cinema," The New Yorker

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Oh, no.

I've never read the Rabbit series, but I'll always remember ordering In the Beauty of the Lillies as a $1 QPB introductory selection, settling in for my first Updike book, and expecting a huge challenge. Then ... turned out the book was about religion (Calvinism!) and movies -- my two favorite subjects! It took a few years, but the reviewers started to mention the book favorably -- I would guess more favorably than they had when it first was released. However, I'm not sure if most of the initial reviews were tepid, and if so, whether the tide changed direction in subsequent years. The Internet was new then, and I didn't track critics' reactions beyond the Washington Post. But I suspect time has been kind to that novel.

I have been meaning to read this again. I loved it. Enjoyed it more than the Rabbit books - or at least those of the series I've read - and I thought they were very good.

On the BBC news page, there's a link to the interview with Updike on BBC Radio 4's arts programme, Front Row, which is quite interesting.


Focus: The Art and Soul of Cinema now published - www.damaris.org/focus

Damaris: www.damaris.org CultureWatch: www.culturewatch.org Personal site: www.tonywatkins.co.uk

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I'm sorry to say that Updike has always been one of the writers I've felt that I ought to appreciate, but can't. Nevertheless, must acknowledge his influence.


There is this difference between the growth of some human beings and that of others: in the one case it is a continuous dying, in the other a continuous resurrection. (George MacDonald, The Princess and Curdie)

Isn't narrative structure enough of an ideology for art? (Greg Wright)

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I've only read one Updike novel, Roger's Version, and that was a few years ago. I was intrigued by the theological debates, and I thought Updike was onto something in the probing of the emptiness of extra-marital sex among people whose lives are stuck in malaise. But I never got around to reading more of his work.

Now hearing of Mr. Updike's passing, maybe that will motivate me to explore his work further. In any event, it's always sad to lose such a literary icon, since their numbers seem to be dwindling.

Edited by Crow

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There is this difference between the growth of some human beings and that of others: in the one case it is a continuous dying, in the other a continuous resurrection. (George MacDonald, The Princess and Curdie)

Isn't narrative structure enough of an ideology for art? (Greg Wright)

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I came across this quote in the obit for Updike in The Week:

Th inner spaces that a good story lets us enter are the old apartments of religion.'

And this one:

I'm very prone to accept all that he scientists tell us, the truth of it, the authority of the efforts of all the men and women spent trying to understand more about atoms and molecules. But I can't quite make the leap of unfaith, as it were, and say:'This is it. Carpe diem and tough luck.'

Focus: The Art and Soul of Cinema now published - www.damaris.org/focus

Damaris: www.damaris.org CultureWatch: www.culturewatch.org Personal site: www.tonywatkins.co.uk

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FWIW, Lou Lumenick notes that there was a film version of Rabbit, Run starring James Caan in 1970, but it was suppressed by the studio after some lousy test screenings -- never released on home video, only barely ever shown on TV. But now, apparently, it is downloadable at Amazon.com (but only if you live in the U.S.).

A few other Updike stories were turned into films, but I've only ever heard of one of those films -- namely, of course, The Witches of Eastwick (1987).


"Sympathy must precede belligerence. First I must understand the other, as it were, from the inside; then I can critique it from the outside. So many people skip right to the latter." -- Steven D. Greydanus
Now blogging at Patheos.com. I can also still be found at Facebook, Twitter and Flickr. See also my film journal.

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