January 28, 2009


John Updike’s Dead: Do We Still Have To Pretend To Like His Books? (Ben Shapiro, 1/28/09, Big Hollywood)

Updike’s characters range from the unbelievable to the unbelievably patronizing. First, the unbelievable. I cannot claim to have read every novel Updike wrote – few can, since he wrote 25 of them – but his major works are stuffed to the gills with characters who speak as no person has ever spoken. In “Terrorist,” Ahmad, an American, half-Irish, half-Egyptian high school graduate seduced by Islamism, states, “There is nothing in Islam to forbid watching television and attending the cinema, though in fact it is all so saturated in despair and unbelief as to repel my interest.” Ahmad is American. No American speaks like this, even an American unlucky enough to fall in with the wrong mosque crowd.

And then there are the patronizing. Rabbit is Updike’s most famous creation, the subject of four of his novels. Rabbit is an adulterous creep, a selfish hedonist who has no concern for his wife or family. And, yes, Rabbit is a political conservative; in “Rabbit, Redux,” Updike makes a point of Rabbit’s support for the war in Vietnam and his flag decal. As Updike stated in a 2004 interview:

“People ask me what would Rabbit think of 9/11, what would Rabbit think of George W. Bush, and I just can’t say … I think Rabbit would probably have the same reaction to the invasion of Iraq that he had to Vietnam, that it may be a mistake but it’s our duty to see it through. If he were alive, he’d probably be in Florida most of the year by now and he might have a stars-and-stripes sticker on his car. After 9/11, he certainly would have put the flag up.”

The rube.

Updike himself was a political liberal. In 2007, he wrote a review of Amity Shlaes’ “The Forgotten Man” in “The New Yorker,” in which he castigated Shlaes for her criticism of FDR: The impression of recovery—the impression that a President was bending the old rules and, drawing upon his own courage and flamboyance in adversity and illness, stirring things up on behalf of the down-and-out—mattered more than any miscalculations in the moot mathematics of economics.” This is tremendous nonsense. There is little doubt FDR was a great politician, a phenomenal PR man. But Shlaes’ argument – that FDR lengthened the Great Depression – does not call for a rebuttal based on anecdotal reminiscences.

And he had Styron Syndrome, John Updike dies at 76; Pulitzer-winning author (Mary Rourke, January 28, 2009, LA Times):
He was perhaps more successful in his 20 or so stories about Bech, the famous Jewish American novelist who suffers from writer's block and gets by on his past literary glories.

Updike joked that he invented Bech to grab some of the attention away from his major competitors. When he started his Bech stories in 1964, that list included Bernard Malamud, Saul Bellow and Philip Roth, all acclaimed Jewish American writers.

"I created Henry Bech to show that I was really a Jewish writer also," Updike teased in a 1982 interview with Time magazine.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at January 28, 2009 12:19 PM
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