A favorite author passed away yesterday, in Massachusetts.
At 4:57 am, I received the following message from good friend Gibbs Cadiz: “Just in: John Updike dead at 76.” He knew I admired the man and master.
When I started this blog, I did capsule reviews of some books I thought said something about me: It was, so to speak, an About Me in books. Of the many Updike books I could have reviewed, I chose More Matter:
John Updike: More Matter: Essays and Criticism
Perhaps John Updike’s best stuff is in some of his short stories, his poignant, precise miniatures of American suburbia, but boy can the man write sweepingly, paint the broadest canvas. In his criticism, he displays a generosity of vision that matches his panoramic gifts, his Nabokovian ease in writing exactly and yet ecstatically. More Matter is the fifth collection of his essays and criticism, after Assorted Prose, Picked-Up Pieces, Hugging the Shore, and Odd Jobs. (The first volume is the only one I haven’t read yet.) He pokes fun at his own prodigious productivity (“more matter,” he quotes Queen Gertrude telling Polonius, “with less art”); even he knows the sheer volume of his output diminishes scholarly and critical interest in him. But I suppose he can’t help himself from writing (and publishing). More Matter includes learned, writerly disquisitions on freedom and equality, religion and literature, and reconsiderations of American past masters. But inside every syntopical impulse, I guess, beats the pulse of the miniaturist. Updike’s short essays on iconic photographs, for example, shine brilliantly, like unfading colors in a book of hours. A powerful anthology, searchingly intelligent.
The New Yorker’s open line for tributes: Remembering Updike
Jay Parini’s take, in the Guardian (there are others): American Splendor
Michiko Kakutani’s appreciation: Updike Made the Mundane into a Saga
Salon’s appraisal: John Updike’s Life and Work (from 2000)
Not least, James Fallows’ blog post: “When a figure of this stature passes…”