Thursday, January 29, 2009

John Updike has passed

I will never forget taking my American Literature course during my undergraduate studies. The course was entitled: Hawthorn to Updike, a survey of America's greatest authors. I was raised in Nebraska, and so I had read Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Poe, and Bradbury, but I had never heard of Updike. Who was he? When our course began I recall being shocked that not only was Updike still alive, but that he was not all that old. In those days he was in his late fifties, still producing, and giving brilliant lectures on writing and literature. I immersed myself in his writing during university. One thing I learned was that the only way to read his work was with a dictionary in hand, because he would reach out to his readers with a vocabulary that spanned the English language. His incredible characters, their sexual endeavors, self loathing, and ever so common lives being blown into heroic proportions, reminded me of Shakespeare in the way that every character could be elevated -- risen to a pedestal of personal greatness -- before their inevitable fall. 

His short stories were my favorites, and if you have never read any of his short stories you owe it to yourself to pick one up and read this master. What I loved was that his characters were us, the people around us, the us we recalled in our youth or the us we may someday be, and at every turn within his tale they stayed true to the human restraints and to human nature. 

I will miss him. To honor him, I'm putting down the novel I was reading by John Irving, and revisiting some Updike pieces.