Last post on Updike: I promise.
I know, I KNOW: we're all supposed to love John Updike. And clearly, the time of Updike-hagiography is upon us. So far be it from me to grouse about someone so beloved- it's just... well, it's just a couple of things...
First off, I'm a tad piqued that in EVERY interview that the man gave before his death he managed to slip in a snipe at the publishing industry- otherwise known as "The Hand That Fed John Updike" (file under Don't Bite The). Dear Sir- if you prick us do we not bleed?
We (speaking as a member of the sinister industry in question) are not a dark cabal-but rather a federation of mostly decent folk trying to pay our rents whilst, if we are lucky and work at a house such as A.A. Knopf, forwarding the cause of literature. There- I've said it.
Oh, Updike's digs are subtle, and perhaps this is what Adam Gopnik refers to in his Talk of the Town piece as Updike's ability to "Bite without tooth-marks." But the bites are there. And, incidentally, is there such thing as a "bite without tooth-marks?" Not in the sense Gopnik means it. Either it bites, or it doesn't. Which brings me to my second point...
We'll call this complaint "Contra Vivid Prose." And I call as my expert witness the late great Gilbert Sorrentino, whose Mulligan Stew was a seriously important book to me way back in the eighties. I was led to Sorrentino's Something Said by a friend who also has clandestine reservations about Updike. In his piece Sorrentino condemns Updike's work as "Buckling under the weight of (a) concatenation of images, often linked together by comparisons that work to conceal the reality they are supposedly revealing."
To quote an oft-cited example from Updike's A Month of Sundays: "Newsletters and quarterlies that pour through the minister's letter slot like urine from a cow's vulva." Ahem. Putting aside the fact that what the hell does this cow have to do with anything, the real feeling of the mail arriving has not been elucidated here- rather, the vividness of the image enhances, and thereby obfuscates. We read this passage and picture the urine and the orifice and cool! We see in our mind's eye something pour out of something. But these are (again, Sorrentino) "Fancy images (that are) not in touch with the world but emblazon it." And here's the thing- once you notice this tendency in Updike, you can't un-notice it. It's everywhere in his writing.
OK, I'm done. Phew- glad that's off the old chest. So now let the hate-mail rain upon me like...urine?