John Updike's memoirs consist of six Emersonian essays that together trace the inner shape of the life, up to the age of fifty-five, of a relatively fortunate American male. The author has attempted, his Foreword states, "to treat this life, this massive datum which happens to be mine, as a specimen life, representative in its odd uniqueness of all the oddly unique lives in this world." In the service of this metaphysical effort, he has been hair-raisingly honest, matchlessly precise, and self-effacingly humorous. He takes the reader beyond self-consciousness, and beyond self-importance, into sheer wonder at the miracle of existence.
WHEN, five years and five books of fiction ago, THE CARPENTERED HEN, John Updike's first collection of verse, was published, Phyllis McGinley wrote: "I have been happily reading Mr. Updike in The New Yorker for some time and am happy, now, to own him collected. When he first appeared in that magazine, I was so elated to see a new name in light verse that I felt like crying with the Ancient Mariner 'A Sail, A Sail!' His is what poetry of this sort exactly out to be--playful but elegant, sharp-eyed, witty." In the Saturday Review, David McCord wrote: "Furthermore, he is a graceful border-crosser (light verse to poem) as Auden has been; as Betjeman and McGinley frequently are." This second collection is equally divided between poems that, in their verbal jugglery and humorous bias, seem to qualify as "light" and poems that, one way or other, cross the problematic border into the general realm of poetry. The distinction cannot be clear-cut. The poet is consistently concerned with Man's cosmic embarrassment, and the same vision illuminates the creatures of "The High Hearts" and "Seagulls." Science and religion, so frequently and variously invoked, frame a single paradox, the paradox of the mundane; and each poem, whether inspired by an antic headline or a suburban landscape, rejoices in the elusive surface of created things.
The ever-surprising John Updike's twenty-second novel is a brilliant contemporary fiction that will surely be counted as one of his most powerful. It tells of eighteen-year-old Ahmad Ashmawy Mulloy and his devotion to Allah and the words of the Holy Qur'an, as expounded to him by a local mosque's imam. The son of a bohemian Irish-American mother and an Egyptian father who disappeared when he was three, Ahmad turned to Islam at the age of eleven. He feels his faith threatened by the materialistic, hedonistic society he sees around him in the slumping factory town of New Prospect, in northern New Jersey. Neither the world-weary, depressed guidance counselor at Central High School, Jack Levy, nor Ahmad's mischievously seductive black classmate, Joryleen Grant, succeeds in diverting the boy from what his religion calls the Straight Path. When he finds employment in a furniture store owned by a family of recently immigrated Lebanese, the threads of a plot gather around him, with reverberations that rouse the Department of Homeland Security. But to quote the Qur'an: Of those who plot is God the best.
"The Maples stories trace the decline and fall of a marriage," writes the author in his Foreword, a marriage that is threatened early on by the temptations of infidelity ("Snowing in Greenwich Village") and that ends in a midlife divorce ("Here Come the Maples"). "They also illumine a history in many ways happy, of growing children and a million mundane moments shared." That all blessings are mixed and fleeting does not make them less real, and if temporality is held to be invalidating, then nothing real succeeds. "A tribe segregated in a valley develops an accent, then a dialect, and then a language all its own; so does a couple. Let this collection preserve one particular dead tongue, no easier to parse than Latin."
John Updike's first collection of verse since Midpoint takes its title from a poem about insomnia. Throughout, this is poetry with its eyes wide open, restlessly alert for the oddities of reality and the double entendres of imagination. Fanciers of light verse will find a middle section of delicate fossil prints left by this vanished form; readers of Mr. Updike's fiction will recognize some of the landscapes and preoccupations. In three long poems he, in turn, remembers a boyhood Sunday in Pennsylvania, addresses aspects of a Harvard education, and contemplates, with a Dionysian verve, the aesthetic challenge posed by the new sexual candor ("We must assimilate cunts to our creed of beauty"). Shorter poems treat of spring and flying, of gold and the Caribbean, of sand dollars and bicycle chains, of the shades of bliss and variety of phenomena accessible to a man past the midpoint of his life, trying to pace himself as he heads toward Nandi.
Ben Turnbull, the hero of John Updike's eighteenth novel, is a sixty-six-year-old retired investment counselor living north of Boston in the year 2020. A recent war between the United States and China has thinned the population and brought social chaos. The dollar has been locally replaced by Massachusetts scrip; instead of taxes, one pays protection money to competing racketeers. Nevertheless, Ben's life, traced by his journal entries over the course of a year, retains many of its accustomed comforts, as supervised by his vibrant wife, Gloria. He plays golf; he pays visits to his five children and ten grandchildren. Something of a science buff, he finds his personal history caught up in the disjunctions and vagaries of the "many-worlds hypothesis derived from the indeterminacy of quantum theory. His identity branches into variants extending back through history and ahead in the evolution of the universe, as both it and his own mortal, nature-enshrouded existence move toward the end of time.From the Hardcover edition.
The theme of trust, betrayed or fulfilled, runs through this collection of short stories: Parents lead children into peril, husbands abandon wives, wives manipulate husbands, and time undermines all. Love pangs, a favorite subject of the author, take on a new urgency as earthquakes, illnesses, lost wallets, and deaths of distant friends besiege his aging heroes and heroines. One man loves his wife's twin, and several men love the imagined bliss of their pasts; one woman takes an impotent lover, and another must administer her father's death. Bourgeois comforts and youthful convictions are tenderly seen as certain to erode: "Man," as one of these stories concludes, "was not meant to abide in paradise."From the Trade Paperback edition.
An anthology of short stories from John Updike, John Wain, Doris Lessing, Frank Tuohy, H. E. Bates, and Elizabeth Taylor. After the stories are exercises in comprehension and structure.
John Updike's twenty-first novel, a bildungsroman, follows its hero, Owen Mackenzie, from his birth in the semi-rural Pennsylvania town of Willow to his retirement in the rather geriatric community of Haskells Crossing, Massachusetts. In between these two settlements comes Middle Falls, Connecticut, where Owen, an early computer programmer, founds with a partner, Ed Mervine, the successful firm of E-O Data, which is housed in an old gun factory on the Chunkaunkabaug River. Owen's education (Bildung) is not merely technical but liberal, as the humanity of his three villages, especially that of their female citizens, works to disengage him from his youthful innocence. As a child he early felt an abyss of calamity beneath the sunny surface quotidian, yet also had a dreamlike sense of leading a charmed existence. The women of his life, including his wives, Phyllis and Julia, shed what light they can. At one juncture he reflects, "How lovely she is, naked in the dark! How little men deserve the beauty and mercy of women!" His life as a sexual being merges with the communal shelter of villages: "A village is woven of secrets, of truths better left unstated, of houses with less window than opaque wall. " This delightful, witty, passionate novel runs from the Depression era to the early twenty-first century.
More than three decades after the events described in The Witches of Eastwick, Alexandra, Jane, and Sukie--widowed, aging, and with their occult powers fading--return for the summer to the Rhode Island town where they once made piquant scandal and sometimes deadly mischief. But what was then a center of license and liberation is now a "haven of wholesomeness" populated by hockey moms and househusbands primly rebelling against their absent, reckless, self-involved parents. With spirits still free but energy waning, the three women reconstitute their coven to confront not only this youthful counterspell of propriety but also the enmity of those longtime townsfolk who, through their youthful witchery, they irreparably harmed. In this wise and wicked satire on the way we make peace with our pasts, John Updike proves himself a wizard on every page.
Toward the end of the Vietnam era, in a snug little Rhode Island seacoast town, wonderful powers have descended upon Alexandra, Jane, and Sukie, bewitching divorcées with sudden access to all that is female, fecund, and mysterious. Alexandra, a sculptor, summons thunderstorms; Jane, a cellist, floats on the air; and Sukie, the local gossip columnist, turns milk into cream. Their happy little coven takes on new, malignant life when a dark and moneyed stranger, Darryl Van Horne, refurbishes the long-derelict Lenox mansion and invites them in to play. Thenceforth scandal flits through the darkening, crooked streets of Eastwick--and through the even darker fantasies of the town's collective psyche.From the Trade Paperback edition.eat deal of fun to read . . . fresh, constantly entertaining . . . John Updike [is] a wizard of language and observation."-The Philadelphia Inquirer"A wicked entertainment . . . In book after book, Updike's fine, funny impressionistic art strips the full casings of everydayness from objects we have known all our lives and makes them shine with fresh new connections."-The New Republic"Witty, ironic, engrossing, punctuated by transports of spectacular prose."-Time"Vintage Updike, which is to say among the best fiction we have."-NewsdaySelected by Time as one of the Five Best Works of Fiction of the YearFrom the Trade Paperback edition.
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