January 27th, 2009
Suspect each moment, for it is a thief, tiptoeing away with more than it brings. (A Month of Sundays)
John Updike passed away today and his death has left me feeling low. I didn’t like everything that he wrote, but some of his works I loved (Rabbit, Run or Gertrude and Claudius). Even when it left me confused (Brazil), I felt that he was a true master of his art.
Updike’s characters often felt trapped in their lives and his strength lay in the portrayals of their every day relationships. These relationships weren’t anything extreme - there were no axe murderers or husbands living double lives as secret agents, but rather everyday interactions that rang so true you felt like Updike had bugged your living room. Sometimes he exposed the beauty in a glance between a husband and a wife. More often than not, his characters were petty and cruel to each other. They knew which words would sting like a paper cut or slice deep like a razor. Sometimes I hated his characters, but he always managed to make me feel sympathy for them.
Regardless of the subject of his books, I always admired the precision and beauty of his prose. It seems he chose his words very carefully, selected the one that had the exact meaning he intended and never used ten words if five would do. It’s something I strive for in my ramblings, but fear I’ll never accomplish.
We have many of Mr. Updike’s books. My favorites are the Rabbit series, beginning with Rabbit, Run, that he wrote over a thirty year period. It follows the life of Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom in his up and down marriage, infidelities, failings and triumphs. I’m also fond of Gertrude and Claudius which is a re-telling of Hamlet through the eyes of his mother and uncle.