After the most pressing projects were completed, Updike tended either to revisit his pet territory, with decreasing vigour, or to make honourable but mostly doomed excursions elsewhere. After all, the list of writers who have produced significant work in their sixties and seventies is a short one. And there is, of course, so much else to commemorate.
Updike was one of the few American writers of the postwar period who applied first-rate gifts to parochial material; his aim was to reveal beauty where it was thought least likely to dwell. For the most part, he wrote of the Protestant East, a land where paradise is fleetingly regained through lovemaking and natural glories.
His work was principally a mixture of theology, sociology and gynaecology — but there was also mythology, futurology and Egyptology, to pick three from And his fiction is also a serial feat of both geography and autobiography — Updike invented and peopled two towns, Tarbox, MA, and Olinger, PA, the latter a tweaked fictional version of Shillington, the town where he was born and educated.
A writer also needs other writers, as Updike knew. It was also Green, with Joyce, who stirred Updike to his most enduring project — the Rabbit books.
There was Green and there was Joyce; there was also Salinger, whose stories had made parochial concerns fashionable, and Proust, for whom the novel was a retrospective enterprise. Unfortunately, there was a fifth wheel. Certainly, it would not have felt like that. Most of the stories involve marriage and courtship; all of them proffer a series of sweetly turned details before petering out with a puff. In the opening story, "Morocco", a bumbling American family struggle in the heat and unfamiliarity of their holiday location.
Their awkwardness, and Updike's originality, can be seen in this stylishly alien description of a man on a beach: "His face - dark, pentagonal - stayed turned in our direction, staring with some thrust of silent pain, of congested avidity, out of the foreshortened rumple of his robes. Most of the stories are about old age; Updike here, as in the Rabbit novels, looks at the interplay between one's youth and one's final years, and in particular at the hold that the former maintains on the latter.
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This collection is filled with divorcees hankering for former spouses, with married people longing for past paramours and with successful, rounded people returning to the childhood towns and friends they have outgrown but still yearn for. He travels to Florida in pursuit, full of regret that he gave his life to the wrong woman and desperate to salvage his dry old age.
In a lesser author's hands, Leila would now be a homely old dear, and a well-worn moral would be paraded, but she is not like that. Leila is still as zingy as ever she's straight from a relationship with a six-packed young stud , but the problem is this: she is not very nice.
He discovers a need to be alone, in familiar surroundings:. To the repose he found in imagining her still with him. Since her death she was wrapped around him like a shroud of gold and silver thread.
Indeed, for an Updike protagonist an affair, or the prospect of one, is a typical predicament. As the title partly indicates, we see matters unfold from multiple points of view, from the viewpoints of those who died on that day, their loved ones, the terrorists who carried out their heinous acts and those who witnessed them. It seems that God is implicated, always.