John Updike, a beacon of literary sensibility in a hectic age, has died today at age 76.
When I was younger, I saw John Updike as the smirking epitome of the American literary establishment and claimed to dislike him, though somehow I kept reading him and liking him more and more with each novel I read. Eventually I realized he was among my very favorite living writers. Couples, a study of the psychology of adultery masked as a sex-filled popular bestseller, may have been his masterpiece. Other works of his I’ve loved best include Too Far To Go, Marry Me, Gertrude and Claudius and his great volumes of generous, gorgeously composed literary criticism, such as Picked-Up Pieces, Hugging the Shore, Odd Jobs, More Matter and the recent Due Considerations. His short stories provide unending pleasure, his slim autobiography Self-Consciousness is also wonderful, and nobody who intends to enjoy the Updike oeuvre should miss Nicholson Baker’s crazily affectionate tribute to his own favorite writer, U and I.
Unlike other bloggers, I never really feel sad when a great writer dies. A life lived as art deserves a meaningful ending, and my greatest wish for a literary giant like John Updike is that he achieve a final chapter that would satisfy him. I wish John Updike’s last novel wasn’t The Widows of Eastwick, but Updike’s career was always characterized by a wide scope, and perhaps this ending will eventually explain itself. I am happy that I got a chance to ask him a question two and a half years ago, and I was thrilled at the time that he seemed to like my question. I feel honored to have briefly shared his literary space.
Other LitKicks posts concerning John Updike are here (by Jamelah), here, here, here (in which I contrast him with Philip Roth), here (in which I get pissed off at him), here, here and here (in which I compare him to Henry James).