John Updike’s Dead

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01/27/2009 3:33 PM |

I thought he’d be around indefinitely, but no.

Last spring, I read and wrote about Updike’s short story “The Full Glass,” in which his precise, engrossed, obsessive eye for detail is put into the voice of an old man cataloging sensations and memories — all of it grouped around the metaphor of a cup about to run over. I’m looking at it again this afternoon, and finding it especially poignant. (When James Wood complains, in How Fiction Works, about Updike’s prose “freez[ing] detail into a cult of itself,” he couldn’t have been more wrong — Updike’s expansive, brilliantly written descriptions are a celebration of life as perceived, sensually, by the living. And as such something like an affirmation, even amid the passage of time, of the not-yet-ness of death.) (If you’ll allow the coinage, or even if you won’t.)

I also talk, in that response to Updike’s celebration of life as perceived, sensually, by the living, about how gross the sex part of said sensual celebration is. Because this is, of course, John Updike, recent winner of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Bad Sex in Fiction Award, that we’re talking about. (This is a longtime L Mag hobbyhorse going back to one of the best essays we’ve ever run, Adam Bonislawski’s A Bad Case of Writer’s Cock.) It saddens me that we won’t have this old horndog to kick around anymore. I will also miss his spacious book reviews in the New Yorker. His rules for reviewing are a touchingly generous proposition on the nature of the craft of reviewing, and quite sturdily applicable.