John Updike 1932-2009


I must confess I never read any of John Updike's Rabbit Angstrom novels. Nevertheless, upon the news of his passing, I felt a yawning hole open. His essays, his short stories (many of us have probably been force fed his masterful A & P in school, it still stands as a portrait of teen angst to rival Rebel Without a Cause), and, interestingly, his poems set him apart, above so many other writers. In the age of the sentence, which we seem to be mired in, he was a crystalline master, if not the master.

His eye was superb, he played with words with such confidence, that comparisons had to be made between him and musical virtuosos like Horowitz or sublime draftsmen like Ingres or R. Crumb. It is also interesting that he started as a cartoonist; his visual force infests his strongest prose. Writing could not take flight like this, not this often.

Reading Updike was a sensual experience, a delight. Steeped in the mythos of The New Yorker, he sometimes let polish overtake him. But he was also vexed with a relentless honesty, a probing vision that always found truth, always overturned stones. He could write about anything, and did. And, while we're at it, attention must be paid to the finest piece of sports reporting, or baseball journalism, or whatever you want to call it: his sublime "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu," reporting on Ted Williams's last game. For that alone, Updike deserves canonization. It was truly Kismet that this splendid splinter of a writer was in the stands that blustery October day to report on what could only be called a miracle.

I will get around to reading Rabbit now, yes I will. A mighty voice is no more.