Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Rest in Peace, John Updike

One of America's most gifted writers, one who made the ordinary shine, died today. I just saw an interview he gave to Charlie Rose not too long ago.

Here is NYTime's Obituary.

January 28, 2009
John Updike, a Lyrical Writer of the Ordinary, Is Dead at 76

John Updike, the kaleidoscopically gifted writer whose quartet of Rabbit Angstrom novels highlighted so vast and protean a body of fiction, verse, essays and criticism as to place him in the first rank of among American men of letters, died on Tuesday. He was 76 and lived in Beverly Farms, Mass.


Of Mr. Updike’s 61 books, perhaps none captured the imagination of the book-reading public as those about ordinary citizens in small-town and urban settings. His best-known protagonist, Harry (Rabbit) Angstrom, first appears as a former high-school basketball star trapped in a loveless marriage and a sales job he hates. Through the four novels whose titles bear his nickname — “Rabbit, Run,” “Rabbit Redux,” “Rabbit Is Rich” and “Rabbit at Rest” — the author traces the sad life of this undistinguished middle-American against the background of the last half-century’s major events.

“My subject is the American Protestant small town middle class,” Mr. Updike told Jane Howard in a 1966 interview for Life magazine. “I like middles,” he continued. “It is in middles that extremes clash, where ambiguity restlessly rules.”

From his earliest short stories, set in the fictional town of Olinger, Pa., which he once described as “a square mile of middle-class homes physically distinguished by a bend in the central avenue that compels some side streets to deviate from the grid,” Mr. Updike sought the clash of extremes in everyday dramas of marriage, sex and divorce. The only wealth he bestowed on his subjects lay in the richness of his descriptive language, the detailed fineness of which won him comparisons with painters like Vermeer and Andrew Wyeth.

This detail was often so rich that it inspired two schools of thought on Mr. Updike’s fiction — those who responded to his descriptive prose as to a kind of poetry, a sensuous engagement with the world, and those who argued that he wasted beautiful language on nothing. The latter position was perhaps most acutely defined by James Wood in an essay, “John Updike’s Complacent God,” in his collection “The Broken Estate: Essays on Literature and Belief” (Random House, 1999).

Mr. Wood attributed the author’s “lyric capacities” to his “particular loyalty to the Protestant theologian Karl Barth.” He argued that for Mr. Updike, because he accepts Barth’s belief that God confers grace through the gift of creation, description alone of that creation is sufficient to affirm his faith.

He is also quite famous for his "Witches of Eastwick" and his numerous collections of essays.

He also was a believer in 3 pages a day: 3 pages a day means a book a year means several books in a lifetime. I have tried that...and it is amazing how fast your writing builds. It is also good just to keep in the practice.

1 comment:

coffee said...

John Updike's passing is sad news indeed... he possessed a truly beautiful mind; he didn't just write well, he wrote wisely