Bitty Ruminations 71 – John Updike

Posted on December 8, 2012


There are many canonical authors you’re meant to like, and you pick up one of their books as a means of putting a toe into their literary waters, but after 100 pages or so, you’re still waiting for that epiphany. Some of those with whose books I’ve had that epiphany are Thomas Hardy, Dostoevsky, Nabokov (yes, liking Lolita is a cliché, but, really, what’s not to like?), and John Updike — though the latter hasn’t yet been inducted into the canon. (Or has he?) The four Rabbit novels are among the greatest contemporary fiction I’ve read, and despite David Foster Wallace’s famous assessment of Updike as a literary phallocrat, I find almost no page devoid of a resonant life statement, or at least a resonant sentence. A penis with a thesaurus? Perhaps. But a writer curious about every aspect of life, even the underside of the foreskin, and determined to fossilise every one of those aspects in lapidary language, so that future generations can know what a certain kind of American male looked like, walked like, talked like, made love like, is a no-brainer inductee into my personal canon.

PS: This piece here prompted the above. “… a Sabbath gleam in the dappled sunshine suggested a day apart.” Why do the rest of us even bother to write?

PPS: And it’s an odd coincidence that this piece was published soon after I read this review of an Updike work in The New York Times, from which I stole the word “accretionary.” The stolen word appears in a story that will be up in a few hours.