A Look Back at John Updike
Along with Phillip Roth, Updike’s work constitutes some of the most important in post-war American fiction, heralding in the style of solipsistic male protagonists, for whom the world forms around them. Rabbit may be his most famous character in this respect, appearing in fewer novels, but making a bigger impression than Roth’s Zuckerman.
Jack rabbit ran through four decades, starting with ‘Rabbit Run’, the portrait of a young man, a gifted college basketball player, making his first mistakes in life.
The character then appeared a decade later in ‘Rabbit Redux’, this time as a slightly older man coming to terms with what life holds after young promise expires.
Updike would continue to check in on the character over the following decades, watching him grow older and somehow sadder , before putting the character to rest in ‘Rabbit at Rest’.
Updike was born in the late twenties in Reading in Pennsylvania, the home state to such prestigious writers as Ezra Pound, though Updike is probably recognised as the State’s foremost novelist.
As a young man it was his mother that influenced his choice to pursue a writing career, he would watch her at a typewriter, enjoying the sight of the writer’s materials, the typewriter, the erasers, and the ritual of the brown envelopes to send the work to a publisher after completing it. It was his mother’s ambition that so spurred his.
Updike was a successful scholar; he later became alumni of Harvard, where he was an energetic editor of the Harvard Lampoon for which he submitted comical articles as well as cartoons.
At this point Updike’s aspiration was as a cartoonist. He revealed in his collection of art essays his utmost admiration for cartoonists, and his desire to become one. He would go on to describe himself as a failed cartoonist.
This is what he had pursued after Harvard, going on to study illustration after graduating; though he went on to defer these dreams for the apparently more straightforward medium of literature.
His achieved early success with his early novels and poems, though he achieved real renown from the first Rabbit novel, from which he channelled many of the settings from his Reading, Pennsylvania childhood. From these novel Pennsylvania became a popular pilgrimage for his fans, with many taking holidays in Pennsylvania vacation rentals.
Updike has earned a prestigious fan base on both sides of the Atlantic, as he is praised by the American new breed as well as being recognised by many English novelists.
Martin Amis describes Updike as one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century and this is an opinion shared by Ian McEwen, who interviewed Updike shortly before he died in January last year.
Updike’s presence may be missed in today’s literary scene, yet his prose still endures as some of the best in recent fiction.
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