Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Good-bye to all that

And so John Updike is dead, and if you at first ask "Who?" or "Who cares?", pull up a chair and let me tell you about a literary hero.

I discovered Updike in college, in a freshman English course, when we were assigned to read a brilliant short story called "A&P." His writing was concise and sharp; his subject matter was something to which an 18-year-old male could relate -- watching girls in bathing suits.

A few years later, after I began taking the New Yorker, I gravitated toward his work. I would look forward to his stories like one looks forward to a winter snow. It wouldn't happen often, but when it did, one savored it.

I spent a memorable Memorial Day at the lake a few years ago, imbibing, talking about life with friends, and sitting on the deck as the sun set, enjoying his latest short story. I remember wondering whether I will churn out consistently well-written work when I'm his age.

He liked to write about sex in suburbia. And, if that seems dirty to you, it wasn't. Updike treated it with honesty, hunting Hemingway's one true sentence, which should be any writer's goal.

I bought his memoir, "Self-Consciousness," for a buck-fifty at McKay's last summer. Just the other night, I was skimming one of his poems in the New Yorker, and reading his article on Ted Williams' last game before bedtime. I won't say I have tried to copy his style in my own work, but through his example I have tried to write with more clarity and honesty.

Don't know why I feel as if I've lost an old friend. But I do.

It's the end of an era, a good-bye to all that tip of the cap to the time when literature seemed a central part of our consciousness.

And so John Updike is dead. I feel like a part of me is too.

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Blogger Forrest Preece said...

Just happened to find your blog because I was doing my yearly search to see if anyone else has been able to unlock the mystery of "Yellow Roses on Her Gown." If you find out anything else, pls let me know.

You remind me of myself, though I am twice your age. Updike has been an inspiration for me as well.

I'll never forget my first paperback of "Rabbit, Run" that I bought my sophomore year at UT. How many notes I made in its margins-- I wish I had that copy back. Lord knows what used book store or landfill has absorbed it by now.

The whole overlay effect of the concupiscent Pennsylvania high school boy who could swish the net and the Madonna-bad girl conflicts-- pressed onto the visual descriptions of the Amish wagons rattling down the roads, in defiance of the gasoline-powered automobiles. (Which Harry Angstrom wound up selling.)

Somehow, his prose took me to a unique place in and understanding of modern American life.

Thanks for the post.

5:32 PM  

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