Wednesday, January 28, 2009

John Updike, 76

“John Updike, the kaleidoscopically gifted writer whose quartet of Rabbit Angstrom novels highlighted so vast and protean a body of fiction, verse, essays and criticism as to earn him comparisons with Henry James and Edmund Wilson among American men of letters, died today at a hospice outside Boston. He was 76 and lived in Beverly Farms, Mass...

“From his earliest short stories, set in the fictional town of Olinger, Pa., which he once described as “a square mile of middle-class homes physically distinguished by a bend in the central avenue that compels some side streets to deviate from the grid,” Mr. Updike sought the clash of extremes in everyday dramas of marriage, sex and divorce. The only wealth he bestowed on his subjects lay in the richness of his descriptive language, the detailed fineness of which won him comparisons with painters like Vermeer and Andrew Wyeth.

“'I would write ads for deodorants or labels for catsup bottle, if I had to,' he told The Paris Review in 1967. 'The miracle of turning inklings into thoughts and thoughts into words and words into metal and print and ink never palls for me.'”

-- “John Updike, a Lyrical Writer of the Ordinary, Is Dead at 76”

PLUS: Updike on death, in a poem called Perfection Wasted--

And another regrettable thing about death
is the ceasing of your own brand of magic,
which took a whole life to develop and market --
the quips, the witticisms, the slant
adjusted to a few, those loved ones nearest
the lip of the stage, their soft faces blanched
in the footlight glow, their laughter close to tears,
their tears confused with their diamond earrings,
their warm pooled breath in and out with your heartbeat,
their response and your performance twinned.
The jokes over the phone. The memories
packed in the rapid-access file. The whole act.
Who will do it again? That's it: no one;
imitators and descendants aren't the same.

[Photo: Caleb Jones/AP]

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