All he does is write his novel

Christian Lorentzen

  • 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.’

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