RIP John Updike (1932 – 2009)

John Updike (1932 – 2009) dies. I have never read anything by him. My only memory remotely connected to the physical me is a foreign professor who came to teach us English at the HIVT, where I studied for translator.

He described a scene in one of Updike’s Rabbit novel sequence in which the main character inserts a gold coin into the vagina of his partner, Janice.

I was instantly put off by the scene, although I am not naturally aversed by debauchery.

The whole story was described by this teacher as terribly a middle-class everyman, perhaps best described in Europe as the petit bourgeois who was a fan of the work of Jacques Brel, one who was laughed at by Brel despite (or perhaps, because) being a fan. It is a character I find difficult to indentify with.

For a writer of such fame, it is strange that so few of his works have been adapted for film (see unfilmability), is this due to the aforementioned unfilmability or just that no filmmaker was inspired enough by the stories of Updike?

From IMDb:

  • (6.30) – The Witches of Eastwick (1987)
  • (6.24) – Too Far to Go (1979) (TV)
  • (6.22) – The Roommate (1985) (TV)
  • (5.43) – Rabbit, Run (1970)
  • (5.38) – A & P (1996)
(The films are preceded by their IMDb scores which are a fairly reliable assessment of tastes.)

The Witches of Eastwick is Updike’s most famous work in filmland (it is far too easy for a writer to be famous in bookland, one has to research every artist outside of his own domain to assess future longevity). In 1987, the novel was adapted into a film starring Jack Nicholson as Darryl, Cher as Alexandra, Susan Sarandon as Jane, and Michelle Pfeiffer as Sukie.

I have fond memories of The Witches of Eastwick:


The previous excerpt on the war of the sexes

Jack Nicholson to Cher:

“Scale against size. … You see! Women are in touch with different things. … I see men running around trying to put their dicks into everything … trying to make something happen, but it’s women who are the source. The only power, nature, birth, rebirth … cliché … cliché … but true.”

… even sounds surprisingly Paglia at her most chthonic.

8 thoughts on “RIP John Updike (1932 – 2009)

  1. lichanos

    If you want to see how bad a writer he could be, read “Roger’s Version.” On the good side, I found some of his critical pieces and short poems marvelous. I don’t know his work well at all, but the spread seemed remarkable to me. Personally, I’ve never understood his appeal. It has something to do with American middle class culture that I, for better or worse, am outside of.

    BTW, yours is the only blog to which I cannot post from work. My job does not like you.

  2. coffee

    the loss of John Updike makes me wonder if the literary world is being replenished at the same rate that it’s losing such great writers

  3. jahsonic

    middle class culture that I, for better or worse, am outside of.

    Yes boring is it not? Middle class, however, was also celebrated in Mme Bovary and The Red and the Black (if I am not mistaken, I did not, alas, finish the novel which I liked 100%)

    BTW, yours is the only blog to which I cannot post from work. My job does not like you.

    Since November 2004, which was the occasion of the intentionally wiping out of my entire site, my various internet endeavours have been the object of a thorought blacklisting. Censorship has never been so easy as in the internet era. So much for internet utopia.

    I find myself with a small but attentive audience, which satisfies me most of the time, being generally partial to one on ones rather than crowds.


  4. lichanos

    Middle class culture boring?

    I don’t know. If I say so, is that not so? middle class, and boring?

    I don’t think Flaubert and Stendhal celebrated bourgeois culture. They excoriated it. Well, any publicity is good, right?

    In those days, the “middle class” was a pretty distinct, small, well defined group. Now, in America at least, everyone is, or thinks they are, or wants to be middle class. See my rant:

    As for Updike, I just meant, honestly, I don’t get him. Maybe it’s because he was, as they still say, a WASP, and I a Jew. Or maybe I’m a bohemian after all…

    BTW, thanks for the pointer to Agony! I got it from my library.

  5. lichanos

    He was a charming, sophisticated man, down to earth, with tremendous literary gifts. Thus my puzzlement as to why I dislike most of what I’ve read by him.

    My chief recollection of Roger’s Version, aside from my thinking the metaphysics was silly, was that in his heart of hearts, he feels sex is really dirty, a point of view that leaves me cold…

  6. georgy

    He says sex is dirty, yes, but in a terribly desirable way.

    The recurring use of “Girls just want to have fun” in the presence of his niece, the idea that his wife is actually having the dirty sex he craves for with the younger guy, all this was pretty powerfully done.

Comments are closed.