All he does is write his novel
- BuyUpdike by Adam Begley
Harper, 558 pp, £25.00, April 2014, ISBN 978 0 06 189645 3
‘I had this foresight,’ John Updike’s mother, Linda, once told a journalist, ‘that if I married his father the results would be amazing.’ Was Updike amazing? In the most simple terms, which were the ones he favoured, he was an exemplary American success story: a child of the Depression who passed from a hardscrabble youth through the halls of the meritocracy to become a rich man on the earnings of his fiction. Note the defensive modesty of the epitaph Updike suggested for himself: ‘Here lies a small-town boy who tried to make the most out of what he had, who made up with diligence what he might have lacked in brilliance.’ The claims he made for his short stories are those of a lacklustre publicist: ‘my only duty was to describe reality as it had come to me – to give the mundane its beautiful due.’ Of his choice to make suburban life his primary subject, he said: ‘Out there was where I belonged, immersed in the ordinary, which careful explication would reveal to be extraordinary.’
Vol. 36 No. 13 · 3 July 2014
Christian Lorentzen mentions that John Updike ‘took the precaution of having the New Yorker hold his stories for months and years if the episodes he was treating were still too raw’ (LRB, 5 June). Like all magazines the New Yorker had a ‘bank’ in which William Shawn deposited articles of all kinds until he could or could not find a spot in the magazine. It drove the writers crazy. We were consoled by a story about Updike. He joined the magazine in 1955 and began writing ‘Talk of the Town’. An early piece was called ‘Time on Fifth Avenue’ in which he looks for a clock. It was probably written around 1957. It was put in the bank and not published until 1963.
Christian Lorentzen writes: In his biography Adam Begley discusses the New Yorker’s bank, but also mentions that there was a ‘shadow bank’ for stories of Updike’s that veered too close to recent personal events. At the LRB, we have a ‘box’. I’m not aware of a ‘shadow box’.
Vol. 36 No. 15 · 31 July 2014
Jeremy Bernstein refers to articles by John Updike and others being put ‘in’ a bank by the New Yorker editor William Shawn until a spot could be found for their publication (Letters, 3 July). In My Mistake, a memoir of his time at the New Yorker, Dan Menaker refers instead to such articles being ‘on’ the bank. At first he thinks it’s a riverine metaphor: articles waiting to be pushed into the stream that will take them to publication. He later realises that the ‘bank’ referred to a compositor’s cabinet with a sloping top on which galleys were rested.
Northcote, Victoria, Australia