Tuesday, January 27, 2009
John Updike, 1932-2009: UPDATED
I saw John Updike when he came to Graham Chapel at Wash. U. in the mid-nineties. He read a story called "Lifeguard," from his early collection Pigeon Feathers. After reading it, he expressed surprise at some of the details that dated the story—pregnant women smoking on the beach, for instance. He expressed some embarrassment that so many students across the country had been required to read his story "A&P." He took questions, and I raised my hand in the packed chapel. He pointed at me, but a guy a few rows up stood instead and asked a question. I was disappointed, but then after answering that guy's question, Updike said that he'd actually meant me, so I got to stand up and ask mine after all. In a small way, Updike's graciousness and attention to detail in that moment seem of a piece with the grace of his prose and his attentiveness to the particularities of experience and art in his fiction and criticism.