Memories of the Updike Novel About the Ford Administration

1. As promised last week, I’ve begun rereading the only known novel featuring late President Gerald Ford in the title, John Updike’s Memories of the Ford Administration, originally published sixteen years after the end of Ford’s presidency.

The book’s title is something of a joke, and Gerald Ford mainly appears as a symbol for all that is ordinary, decent and unexciting. The novel is a sex romp in the traditional Updike vein; the narrator is a history professor who is juggling a wife, a mistress and several other candidates for his affection, and these women are all juggling various candidates for their affections as well. It’s far from a bad Updike novel (see Brazil), but it’s definitely a minor one whose best moments seem borrowed from his better books. One satisfying scene — a long night in his soon-to-be ex-wife’s spare room — neatly mashes up the stoic farm-wise mother from the great Of The Farm with the sweet, sad teenage son of the equally great story Separating (collected in Too Far To Go). Updike wrote Memories of the Ford Administration after Rabbit At Rest, and he seems to be continuing to recline here.

So why and how does poor Gerald Ford get dragged into this whole marital miasma? The novel’s conceit is that the narrator has been asked to write a paper titled “Memories of the Ford Administration”, even though he’d rather write about President James Buchanan (his academic specialty) or about his mixed-up love life. He can’t think of anything to say about Gerald Ford, so he wrote this novel instead. I’m guessing the Ford family didn’t invite John Updike to the funeral.

2. Speaking of funerals, few commentators have remarked that it was not only a cruel dictator but also a novelist who got hung on Friday. Saddam Hussein’s Zabiba and the King might have been ghost-written, but the epic allegory about a king, an innocent maiden and a usurper (who is said to represent the United States of America) was published as his work.

Memories of the Saddam Administration, anybody?

One Response

  1. Pseudo-academic
    Pseudo-academic Titles

    Pseudo-academic titles like ‘Memories of the Ford Administration’ remain the rage. For example, ‘Special Topics in Calamity Physics,’ ‘A Short History of Tractors in Ukraine’, both recently published.

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