I echo Quin’s sentiments about Updike’s passing. One of the first things I had ever read of Updike’s was a poem called Dog’s Death. Updike’s dog, despite his near-death condition, still manages to follow his house-training… dignity in all things.
Though surrounded by love that would have upheld her,
Nevertheless she sank and, stiffening, disappeared.
When I first heard Updike speak, it was at a Cornell, where he spoke to a large audience about his writing. Listening to Updike talk was like apple pie — he had a slight tremble of age, and the furtiveness of the formerly shy. He almost went to Cornell, but wound up at Harvard (where all sorts of people “wind up”) and so Cornell occupied a “warm furrow of” his heart.
Later, during a writer’s workshop open to a small number of Ithaca locals and students, Updike noted that his Rabbit books spoke to a sense he had that the 1960s was a time of tragic upheaval. I can’t remember the quote properly (and the article I had written about it for the Cornell Review isn’t online), but he shocked the more liberal audience when he said: “Here you had an entire generation of people who were enjoying all the rights afforded to them by their country, yet unwilling to do anything to preserve them.”
Though Updike did get involved with things that Tom Wolfe described as much too psychological, and some things that others felt were far too sexually lurid, he did manage to explore the internal conflicts of Americans caught between a sense of duty and an impending sense of anarchy. Take action and regret? Or pause and regret? In his novels, freedom was always a double-edged sword, and his characters were unfailingly uncertain as to what to do with it.
Now we should face no uncertainty about where Updike, now free of this earth, stands — as a great man of letters. I hope to hear soon about how he worked as an editor. Undoubtedly, he did that well too.
If ever there was a signal to the new generation of writers that they were taking over, Updike’s passing is one.
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