Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Book Fans Bid Updike Adieu

Now John Updike is gone. Time was when I thought he was the greatest American writer of them all. I moved away from that, but I never read an Updike book that didn't have me shaking my head in wonder at his mastery of the language. Some of his phrases have stuck in my mind ever since I first encountered them: the hand in Couples that "showed cornute against the cruciform mullions." The Russian accent of a man trying to speak French who "sloshed in the galoshes of Russian zhushes" (from The Coup). In Roger's Version, the aftermath of intimacy when a man sees his ejaculate "glistening on her belly like an iota of lunar spit." He was a wordsmith without parallel.

He was also the last Barthian in an age when Protestantism either became evangelical or went liberal. My hat's off to him for that, even though I think it left him without sufficient resources to fight off secularism. But I loved it when he told an interviewer that, although he had doubts, he refused to make the "leap of unfaith." Hopefully, he now has his reward.

(BTW: I always thought that Updike wrote this sentence: "His breath smelled of (though no banquet would serve, because of the known redolence of onions, onions) onions." But on looking it up, I find that it was penned by Anthony Burgess. Live and learn.)

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