John Updike's 19th novel, plotted as a "prequel" to Shakespeare's Hamlet, is a beautifully crafted, captivating story. Updike owes much of his thematic treatment to Shakespeare and to modern Shakespeare scholarship, but it is his own fertile imagination that generates the novel's compelling narrative. This is his best book since The Witches of Eastwick.
The birth of Jesus contradicts the idea of a God who "lay above the earth like a layer of icy cirrus." The birth means that we encounter God, not only in elegant theology but in work and in our enjoyment of beauty, friendship and love—in love particularly.
Nelson Angstrom works as a mental health counselor in an Adult Day Treatment Center. On Christmas morning he learns that one of his clients, Michael DiLorenzo, has committed suicide in a desperate attempt to flee the voices in his head.
John Updike’s death in January left a giant hole in my reading life. He chronicled American culture during my lifetime in a way that I always found lucid and smart. He seemed to know about everything, from Søren Kierkegaard to Ted Williams. And I simply loved the way he wrote.
As John Updike’s readers know, he was haunted by death, but he lived in hope that his words would live and speak to other children of earth. “I think of [my] books on library shelves, without their jackets, years old, and a country-ish teenaged boy finding them and having them speak to him.”
John Updike, who died January 27 at age 76, was one of the literary giants of our time. As I mentioned in my column in the February 10 issue (written before Updike’s death), I have read as much as I could of his work—ever since I saw him interviewed on television and heard him respond to a question about why religion and clergy appear so frequently in his writing.
Exploring the extraordinary ordinary dimensions of our lives has always been John Updike’s métier, in which he is peerless among American mid-20th-century writers. His writings, perhaps his short stories most powerfully, relentlessly expose a predictable dialectic: “Discontent, conflict, waste, sorrow, fear—these are the worthy dynamic subjects.
The reflections on John Updike’s work in this issue sent me to my shelves in search of a particular Updike story that I read long ago and have never forgotten. I am an unabashed fan of Updike. He writes thoughtfully and provocatively about ordinary American lives. My fondness for Updike has gotten me in trouble on occasion.
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