Banner photo of Larry Eugene Meredith, Ronald Tipton and Patrick Flynn, 2017.

The good times are memories
In the drinking of elder men...

-- Larry E.
Time II

Monday, May 31, 2010

Another Artist in Passing -- John Updike

John Updike died a few days ago at the age of 76. If my home is festooned with paintings by Andrew Wyeth, who also just died, my book shelf is heavy with John Updike books. He had a great influence on me as a young writer.

Oh, not so much in style. I never used so many multisyllabic words or complex sentences, but in subject and substance. This was because those early works related to me in a very personal way. We grew up not so far from each other. 

He was less than a decade older than I and though he is light years away  as a literary luminary, he was only a few miles distant in proximity of culture, close enough I knew the locales where he set his early work, such as Reading, Pennsylvania.  His boyhood home was in Shillington, mine was in Bucktown. Two nearby Pennsylvania boys who liked words.

In 1963, my wife and I took a journey to his home town of Shillington. I took the photo on the right, which I believe was his home, based on descriptions in his first novel, The Poorhouse Fair.

I easily identified with those early stories found in Pigeon Feathers, The Same Door, Rabbit Run, The Centaur (my favorite of his novels) and other books. I knew the streets and the types. I wrote about much the same thing.

Like me, he also suffered from psoriasis and wrote about it.

He had early success, becoming a staff writer on "The New Yorker" while very young. He use to write anonymously for the "Talk of the Town" section. His stories then began appearing in that magazine, which was considered high prestige and also paid well. All I have from The New Yorker are rejection slips. 

As he grew more successful, he moved away from his Pennsylavia roots to New England. Although somewhat popular, especially with Rabbit Run, he didn't become a household name until he published Couples, his first novel set in his new home land.

I sort of lost interest after this. Perhaps the new works were removed from my world. I don't know. I have gotten several of them. I really turned away when I read Couples. The book was considered quite shocking at the time it appeared, what with all its portrayals of sex and use of four-letter words. I didn't care for it because it seemed phony to me. The way the characters talked did not come across as how people actually talk, especially in love making. My opinion at the time was he wrote it to get attention.  If so, it worked. 

Updike won many awards, including National Book Rewards and two Pulitzer Prizes for Rabbit is Rich and Rabbit at Rest. Perhaps there is irony that two books in a series which began with Rabbit Run and Rabbit Redux about a character created in his Pennsylvania environs should win his top awards. 

Despite my kind of falling out of love with Updike when Couples appeared,  I always carried a fondness for the man and I truly expected to hear him awarded the Nobel Prize. I guess that won't happen now. I may be wrong, but I don't think the Nobel is awarded posthumously.

John, I thank you for those early stories I couldn't get enough of and the way you once inspired me and rose my level of writing. 

written 1/31/09


Tamela's Place said...

Hello Larry,

i have never read any of John updikes writings it's to bad that he seemed to cross over. That happens quite frequenty. I guess there are many who desire greater recognition because with that comes the fortune! I hope he didn't sell his soul to gain the world?

satire and theology said...

John Updike

I have heard the name many times. A solid review.

ANB said...

This is ridiculously late, but I stumbled upon your page and wanted to let you know that the photo of the house was indeed Mr. Updike's.

I was born and raised in Shillington, so the sight of the white house on the corner surrounded by fragrant magnolia trees was a familiar one. Growing up, I constantly heard the story from my mother about her car breaking down nearby on a trip through town and her unexpected encounter with Mr. Updike when she stopped at the house to ask to use a telephone.