A few thoughts about John Updike (Fugitive Ink, 28 Jan 2009)
For me, however, Updike’s passing speeds the end of an era — not my own era, but that of my parents, born 1925 and 1930 respectively, and their contemporaries. Probably, I read more Updike before I turned 18 than I ever have thereafter. The point about Updike, for a bookish child growing up in the South in the 1970s, was that his writing had the reputation of being dangerously, enticingly risqué. He used swear-words (is there anyone alive who’ll believe that the first time I ever encountered the word ‘fuck’ was while taking surreptitious peeps, aged 9 or so, at Erica Jong’s Fear of Flying?), he wrote about sex, his books were full of adultery and divorce and self-doubt. His subject, in other words, was adults and what they did.
And this, more than anything else, was what was both dangerous and enticing in his work. Truly, Updike’s prose (I’m thinking here of the Rabbit books, Couples and also the short stories then available in book form) functioned as the lexicon that rendered a succession of otherwise unintelligible, mysterious events taking place around me all at least a little bit comprehensible. Apparently one can buy, these days, books that purport to tell you what your cat is thinking. Updike, even more miraculously, could tell you what your parents were thinking!
Go and read the whole thing.
As I read Bunny's remembrance of Mr. Updike, the thought occurred to me: one of the reasons that so many Gen X "serious" fiction writers held writers of Mr. Updike's generation in more-or-less veiled contempt might have been that, as the literary avatars of suburban adultery, Updike and his contemporaries were chronicling (if not precisely celebrating) the kind of parental behavior that was causing them direct suffering as children.