Thursday, January 29, 2009

Updike: Born at the Right Time

I like the sociological bent of this reflection on Updike's career, by Jeffrey Eugenides: 

John Updike was fortunate to live when he did. Born in 1932, marrying young and raising children in the fifites and sixties, Updike led a life that resembled, in its outward form and inner turmoil, the lives of a majority of fellow-Americans of his generation. As Updike reached maturity as a writer, postwar America was coming into being and coming apart, and for a great many years Updike’s subject was the subject on everyone’s mind. He had only to write about what was in front of him—suburbia, adultery, divorce and its aftermath—to get at the heart of the nation’s emotional life. I don’t mean to suggest that this was easy to do, only to point out that Updike was the American novelist who articulated, possibly better than anyone else, what everyone was mutely feeling. That was why we grew up seeing his books on our parents’ bedside tables. That was why as a boy the image I had of a writer was the image of Updike, erudite, suave, turtlenecked, Harvard-y.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

OK, then. Let's ask the obvious if unanswerable questions: Who, if anyone, are the candidates to be the Updike of our time? Is there anyone in the rising generation of novelists or short story writers who is tapping a vein of experience common to those of us who are reaching middle age these days? Or is there, perhaps, no common vein of experience for this generation, no common trajectory to our post-collegiate lives? (Job, marriage, suburbia, boredom, adultery is a story people keep telling but with less and less relevance it would seem; hence, my lack of enthusiasm for Revolutionary Road despite my crush on Kate Winslet.) But then, was there ever, really, a common arc to our lives, or did it only look that way at a time when the American literary community was a pretty exclusive club? My parents didn't have Updike novels on the nightstand when I was growing up.