Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A Predictable Updike Appreciation?

Is it true, as All-Poets-are-Thieves says, that David Foster Wallace took a hatchet to Updike? I confess not to have known.

Sad they are both gone--but having paid full price for the hardcover, I couldn't get through ten pages of "Infinite Jest" without feeling I was being held up like a liquor store in a bad neighborhood.

Updike at his best--Rabbit, Run and and Rabbit Redux--was one of those writers who, if you were also a writer, made you sweat. How did he get verbs to do so much work for him (as in "rain sobbing down") without seeming to work very hard? How did he manage to make soaring prose out of ordinary, even tawdry material? For this reader, Updike, when he was in his element, nailed mid-century America the way a lepidopterist tacks butterflies to a board.

Sure, I couldn't really get through "Brazil" and barely wanted to know who did what in "Couples" and kind of couldn't give a hoot about Bech and his Book: but if you haven't tucked into "Of the Farm" or the Rabbits or the Centaurs, you've missed out on what post-WW2 America really felt like (or at least it seems so to a nearly too-young-to-know boomer).

And yes, I too liked reading his occasional New Yorker essay as long as I was able to keep from picturing him writing from somewhere in Connecticut clad in white shoes.