Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Updike At Rest

Talk about a stretch in the dark--I am listening to Sting in a frumpy cafe in the Mission and I'm about to write about John Updike.

To say that I was stunned about Updike's death yesterday would be cliche, but it was a piece of news that caught me. I was introduced to Updike in my first turn in college, way back in the Professor Pulley and community college days. In the midst of a renovated high school classroom in midtown Springfield, Missouri, I opened a cream-covered anthology of short stories that were deemed good enough to learn appreciation for literature from and audited a class that slammed me back into academia. That was still my favorite class of all time. I can't help it. I went back to school on a lark and this class had me hooked for all of time.

Updike was stacked in that collection with the short works of Jamaica Kincaid ("What I Have Been Doing Lately"), Tim O'Brien ("The Things They Carried"), James Joyce ("Araby"), and so on. Updike's selection was "A & P," a story about a kid who works as a bag boy who tries to impress some wispy and cool girls who arrive in the store of the same title for little nibblies and end up never noticing him, even though he quits his job to make the impression. I remember that I liked it, but upon reading Updike later I found him to be the unmistaken member of the club of writers that I liked least, the suburban disillusioned. I remember that the first time I saw his picture I was stunned--for some unfathomable reason I thought he would look more like Neil Simon. His height and slim angles confused me. To this day I still think his looks don't match his writing--can't explain it but can't shake it.

Because he was one of those suburban realist/minimalist/disillusioned writers, I sort of filed him with some Philip Roth, Richard Yates, John Cheever and Raymond Carver in my brain and then forgot about him. Occasionally he would pop back up in The New Yorker (well, I'll be, it's Updike) as either a short story ghost or as a critic, but I never sought him out.

I don't plan to now, either, but he was a good writer. Not artistic enough to fit my taste, but I have always thought him good.

Rest, Rabbit, Rest.

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