Wednesday, January 28, 2009

John Updike, 1932-2009

"Runs. Ah, runs."
For some reason, the final words of Rabbit, Run have stayed with me all these years, decades after I first read the book in high school. Maybe the idea of a man desperately trying to escape what he saw as his dead-end life held a strong appeal for my teenage self. For whatever reason, it was my introduction to a writer whose uncanny way with words has repeatedly astonished me over the decades, especially considering the volume of his output.

Updike, who died Tuesday, was probably most closely identified with the four "Rabbit novels," and similar books portraying the disquiet and frustration simmering below the pavement of the suburbs. Yet, in the middle and later part of his career he also wrote novels laid in Africa, South America, the historical past, and, in one case, the future. And, of course, in addition to his novels, his more than sixty published volumes include short stories, poetry, essays, and literary and art criticism.

Considering Updike's longtime close association with The New Yorker, it isn't surprising that that magazine's website has an extensive tribute to him at the moment with remembrances from, among others, Joyce Carol Oates, E. L. Doctorow, Richard Ford, Paul Theroux, and Julian Barnes. There is also a list of more than 800 pieces Updike wrote for the magazine, many of them freely available online.

Elsewhere, there was this tribute from Philip Roth, one of Updike's few contemporaries who rival his literary eminence: "John Updike is our time's greatest man of letters, as brilliant a literary critic and essayist as he was a novelist and short story writer. He is and always will be no less a national treasure than his 19th-century precursor, Nathaniel Hawthorne."

1 comment:

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