Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Deaths of Distant Friends – John Updike

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

This is my third encounter with Updike in this project, and the more I run into him, the more I like him. I think I confessed in my last post about him that I had not read any Updike (at least I had not sought him out to read) before I read him in these collections. I can be sure that I ran into him in a New Yorker, here and there... but his name and the particular story didn’t stick with me. I’ve become much more focused on the authors now with this project and this focus and research has carried over to the stories I am reading outside of these anthologies.

Updike is a big ‘ol target.

There are so many angles you can hit him from. If you love him, there is an abundance of evidence to point to that can steer your argument towards the opinion held by most – that he is one of the finest American authors of the past 100 years.

If you want to find fault in his work, there too, is plenty of criticism out there that you can fall upon which can support your ideas of Updike being less than stellar.

Personally, I think Updike is wonderful.

Judged solely by the three stories that I have read by him so far. I have enjoyed his subjects, his word choice, the meter and pace of the stories – everything. It works for me. – Personally. And I’d like to emphasize the last word there – Personally.

Every writer cannot and will not be great to everyone. I have no trouble and am more than willing to read criticism of authors – and in Gardner’s case for example, I sought out critical essays of him just to give me a well rounded idea of an author that I consider a genius.

More recently, I have come across a passage where Wallace mentions in an interview conducted with, and published by Lipsky, that he had a problem with Updike...but not as much as Franzen(???) – I’m looking for this exact quote and will update this post when I discover it.

EDIT – June 4, 2010

Page 92-93 of “Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself”.

"Because Updike, I think has never had an unpublished thought.

And that he’s got the ability to put it in very lapidary prose. But that Updike presents one with a compressed Internet problem, is there’s 80 percent absolute dreck, and 20 percent priceless stuff. And you have to wade through so much purple gorgeous empty writing to get anything that’s got any kind of heartbeat in it. Plus, I think he’s mentally ill.

You really do don’t you?

Yeah. I think he’s a nasty person. And I’ll tell you, if you think I hate him? Talk to – bring up his name to [to J. Franzen]. "

Wonderful! DFW taking out Updike! Gimmie it! I need to know!

Now, I haven’t run across articles where Updike is placed in a position where he has to defend his writing and the repetitive themes of his stories but I am almost sure that they are out there.

From what I have read, Updike is labeled as a writer who writes too much about men, their infidelity, divorces, divorced couples, sex, and.. well.. being narcissistic (this last accusation worded so well from DFW in a book review he did for the Observer).

And another thing – when people criticize Updike’s writing, I’ve found that critics like to throw a bit of criticism in about his physical appearance – especially his smile.

Sly, wry, smart-ass.

C’mon – give the guy a break! That’s low hanging fruit – supporting your argument by drawing the readers attention to his smile!

I’ll remind you and myself of a quote by Joyce Carol Oates - a great friend of Updike.

"When people say there is too much violence in Oates," she says, "what they are saying is there is too much reality in life."

From an Interview in 1980 published in the New York Times.

I think that Updike writes about a certain reality. A reality that makes some of us uncomfortable.

“Too much reality in life”

Now if I am going to defend Updike and use their trick and draw your attention to his smile – I think his smile is one that is telling you that the joke is on you, the reader.

He is giving you reality – the infidelity, the sex, the divorces, the narcissism –

Look at our society today – It’s not narcissistic at all!

What was your last status update on Facebook?

Perhaps on some level, I can relate to the subject matter that Updike deals with in these stories – the thoughts, the introspection, the second guessing of existence.

I just really enjoy the way he writes.

When I look at my spreadsheet of authors (available through the links on the right), I can see that I’ll run into Updike quite a few more times, and I and excited that he will be the guest editor for the BASS 1984.

I have a general feeling about that collection of stories (1984) that I had when I was approaching the Gardner selections.

So, as I mentioned a couple of times. This is my third encounter and I will be looking deeper into Updike. Who knows, I may develop an intense hatred for the writer, but for now – he’s good to go in my mind.

This story -

Here is a beautiful passage from “Deaths of Distant Friends”

“Witnesses to my disgrace are being removed. The world is growing lighter. Eventually there will be none to remember me as I was in those embarrassing, disarrayed years while I scuttled without a shell, between houses and wives, a snake between skins, and monster of selfishness, my grotesque needs naked and pink, my social presence beggarly and vulnerable, The deaths of others carry us off a bit by bit, until there will be nothing left; and this too will be, in a way, a mercy.”

Both of her friends are dead.
John Updike and Raymond Smith

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