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John Updike at Rest

Filed under: The Katharine Wheel: On Fiction   Tagged: ,

Benjamin Chambers writes:

I’ve been on vacation, and so missed the momentous news, yesterday, of John Updike’s passing. His fiction was never my cup of tea, but I mourn his loss just the same. Universally admired for the smooth, sparkling facility of his sentences, he was what most writers wish they could be: able to laugh at himself, but deadly serious about his work; supernaturally and steadily productive in multiple genres; critically admired and at the same time a household name; a thoughtful and perceptive critic who read widely; and (though he has never been given much credit for this by readers of his fiction) omnivorous in his interests.

If that list is a bit jumbled, it merely reflects the breadth of Updike’s wide range. And for those with fixed ideas of Updike, based perhaps on his recent stories, I urge them to go back and read “Friends from Philadelphia,” the first story he published in The New Yorker, back in 1954. I read it for the first time last year; though I didn’t comment on this at the time, I was pleasantly surprised by its multiple subtexts, and a piquancy that age has not dimmed.

Years ago, a friend of mine, a New Yorker, passed on a quote she swore was from Updike, something to do with “… the secret sense that anyone not from New York had to be, in some sense, kidding.” Nonetheless, that was how I felt when I heard the news about his death: that someone, somewhere, has got to be kidding. I feel it still.


Note that none other than Joyce Carol Oates agrees with you about “Friends from Philadelphia.”

Hey, wow, Martin - I didn’t see that. I’ve been surprised by the way that story has stuck with me.

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