Updike, John

  Poetry & Prose    Books / People

We are most alive when we’re in love.

John (Hoyer) Updike was an American novelist, poet and, literary critic. He is one of very few writers to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction more than once (others include William Faulkner). Updike published more than twenty novels and dozens of his stories, reviews, and poems appeared in The New Yorker from 1954 onward.

|  18th March, 1932, Pennsylvania, USA.
|  27th January, 2009, Massachusetts, USA.

Updike’s most famous work is his “Rabbit” series (the novels Rabbit, Run; Rabbit Redux; Rabbit Is Rich; Rabbit at Rest; and the novella Rabbit Remembered), which chronicles the life of the middle-class everyman Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom over the course of several decades, from young adulthood to death. According to the literary critic Jonathan Raban, Rabbit at Rest “one of the very few modern novels in English … that one can set beside the work of Dickens, Thackeray, George Eliot, Joyce, and not feel the draft … It is a mass of brilliant details, of shades and nuances, of the byplay between one sentence and the next … no review can properly honor its intricacy and richness.”

Perfectionism is the enemy of creation.

Updike is considered one of the greatest American fiction writers of his generation and is sometimes seen as America’s “last true man of letters.” He has an immense and far-reaching influence on many writers. His highly distinctive prose style features a rich, unusual, sometimes arcane vocabulary as conveyed through the eyes of “a wry, intelligent authorial voice” that describes the physical world extravagantly while remaining squarely in the realist tradition. Updike himself described his style as an attempt “to give the mundane its beautiful due”.

As critics have said, Updike populated his fiction with characters who “frequently experience personal turmoil and must respond to crises relating to religion, family obligations, and marital infidelity”. His fiction is distinguished by its attention to the concerns, passions, and suffering of average Americans and its preoccupation with sexuality and sensual detail. British novelist Ian McEwan wrote that Updike’s “literary schemes and pretty conceits touched at points on the Shakespearean.” on the Rabbit series — “Updike’s masterpiece and surely his monument” — McEwan said:

“Updike is a master of effortless motion—between third and first person, from the metaphorical density of literary prose to the demotic, from specific detail to wide generalisation, from the actual to the numinous, from the scary to the comic. For his own particular purposes, Updike devised for himself a style of narration, an intense, present tense, free indirect style, that can leap up, whenever it wants, to a God’s-eye view of Harry, or the view of his put-upon wife, Janice, or victimised son, Nelson. This carefully crafted artifice permits here assumptions about evolutionary theory, which are more Updike than Harry, and comically sweeping notions of Jewry, which are more Harry than Updike. This is at the heart of the tetralogy’s achievement. Updike once said of the Rabbit books that they were an exercise in point of view. This was typically self-deprecating, but contains an important grain of truth. Harry’s education extends no further than high school, and his view is further limited by a range of prejudices and a stubborn, combative spirit, yet he is the vehicle for a half-million-word meditation on postwar American anxiety, failure and prosperity. … Updike insisted, you have to be generous and allow your characters eloquence, “and not chop them down to what you think is the right size.”[69]




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