Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Gesturing – John Updike



John Updike - March 18, 1932 – January 27, 2009

True confessions time:

This is probably the third story I have read by Updike. That’s it. Three total.

And the funny thing is, after each story, I vowed to read more of him. He’s just so damn good. I mean, really good. Really, really, really good.

And – I never follow through on this vow. My loss.

You see, I know that he has so much to teach me.

About myself, my parents, my friends, my country and the society I live in.

What the hell is wrong with me?

Look at the guy. He looks so happy, it’s like he was born with a smile on his face. And, behind that face, in his brain, he knows us all.

I was exposed to him a great deal through Joyce Carol Oates’ Journal. She and Updike had a great friendship. I think the paring is perfect.

So, as I do with all of these stories, I take a look at the author – read about them, contact them if they are still alive and reachable, then I usually stand in awe of their achievements and finally write a couple of lines about them before I write about what the story provided me with.

Concerning Updike – I am struggling right now to find the words to convey what an author like him can/has done or will do for me.

And the realization that I have recognized for so long now and that I am finally committing to type, is that there are simply so many good authors, so many good stories and I just do not have time to read them all.

Updike, Oates, David Foster Wallace, Zadie Smith and ...

I have obligations in life – we have obligations in life – that prevent us from reading (or insert vice/pastime here).

Mornings are spent exercising (I gotta keep healthy if I’m gonna live long and read) – days are spent at work (must make money to buy books) – evenings are spent catching moments to read between being a good husband and companion to my wife.

Here’s how I look at it.

How would I feel if after a full day of work, my wife came home and buried her face in a book?

If my wife wants to lie in bed and watch The Food Network for an hour with me next to her, I feel that it’s my obligation to the marriage to lay there next to her.

Honestly, if that small gesture “keeps the peace” then I’m a pretty lucky guy. The books can wait.

These thoughts play into what I think I enjoy about Updike, and with this particular story. We all know what Updike writes about, and in “Gesturing” his story of marital infidelity, separation, love, and everything surrounding all of the above, is explored once again.

One of the reasons why I enjoy Updike is because he so vividly takes me places I have never been and will probably never go.

But...he takes me places that I know have been visited by people very close to me. My parents – co-workers and former classmates.

I’m no saint, but I can say that a lot of what he writes about I haven’t done and I hope will never do.

Just as I like Oates – I don’t have the desire to kill anyone ( then eat part of them) in some perverted fashion...but she takes me places that I find fascinating. She peels off the “normal” world that we live in and shows us what really lies just beneath the surface. Updike does the same.

I often wonder, as M and I take our evening walk – which lasts about an hour or so – of what goes on behind the doors of the houses we pass by. Updike knows.

Is there a husband physically abusing his wife or children? A mother drowning her pain by taking another shot of Vodka with a couple of pills. Teenagers looking for attention by “cutting”...or vomiting dinner into the toilet? And on and on and on...

What really happens behind these perfect lawns and front porches?

I think it’s worse than we let ourselves believe.

Gesturing –

Sometimes it’s the small things in life that mean the most. A simple word, a look, a smile, comment or email.

It is said that we live in a connected world. Are we really connected? Are we able to recognize subtle gestures in our “new” world?

I will continue to look for the small gestures – and make small gestures. They work and they help us be better friends, husbands, sons, and parents.

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