Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Remembering John Updike

"That we age and leave behind this litter of dead, unrecoverable selves is both unbearable and the commonest thing in the world -- it happens to everybody." -- John Updike

Updike is dead at 76. Who among our current literary heroes will have that kind of lengthy and varied career? Our best writers today seem more like flares than Updike's punctual comet of novels, essays, criticism.

At the Miami Book Fair International in 1990, Updike appeared to promote "Rabbit at Rest," the fourth and final installment of his novels about Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom.

I watched his literary groupies approach, and later described the scene in a newspaper article.

"Feigning casualness, they are erratically pulled to him as if he's exerting some unseen force. 
He's not moving, though. Just standing there. The gaggle of fans walks, stalls, pulls close. Unfailingly polite, he holds himself in, preparing for a public display he doesn't much enjoy. He stutters slightly.

"He stands still, a sort of parade rest without the ramrod straightness. That's it -- he's all angles: elbows and knees and nose, and hair combed forward on one side like a wing. Like some mussed clergyman. Or a willowy basketball player from the '50s when height mattered and width didn't."

In "Rabbit at Rest," Harry retires to Florida. Updike, who was famous for his research, spent a lot of time around Ft. Myers to get his locale straight.

That's why it was so jarring to see the familiar drug store chain repeatedly spelled as Ekerd. I mentioned that to an unfamiliar reporter waiting with me for an interview.

When we were ushered in, my new best friend promptly tells Updike that "this guy" (meaning me) says there's a mistake in his new book.

Updike looked over his glasses and down his nose from a ridiculous height. I meekly explained it is actually spelled Eckerd.

He took out a notepad. 

"That will be corrected (significant pause) in the paperback edition," he said with great seriousness.

And that -- as I too often tell this story -- is how I once edited the amazing, brilliant, prolific, trailblazing John Updike.

RIP. -- MichaelK

1 comment:

coffee said...

John Updike's passing is sad news indeed... he possessed a truly beautiful mind; he didn't just write well, he wrote wisely