Tea For Two: An Interview with John Updike

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In his perceptions he is almost dementedly sensual: He cowers under a cataract of sense impressions.

His fascination with the observable world is utterly promiscuous: The unblinkingness of his eye is opposed by the mighty wooziness of his heart. He is a romantic, an Arcadian, a tremendous and not always a tasteful yearner for purity, innocence, the cadences of goodness. He is greedy, androgynous, devout, determined, intolerably sentimental and unforgiveably bright.

What makes this chaos meaningful, and what lifts the work from the merely phenomenal, is the way time is acting on it. Countervailingly, and increasingly, Updike is sour, withering, crafty, painfully comic. Such an immersion in the physical world, it seems, will tend not towards nostalgia but towards an invigorating and majestic cynicism. Mortality and its terrors were the fount of much of the early mawkishness; now they form the backing for a new robustness, a humorous pessimism that Updike has grudgingly embraced.

It's strange that I can be so sour when I'm such a sunny, cheerful individual. But when I get going on it It comes in the form of a revitalised Harry Angstrom, Rabbit, the vulgar bohunk he left behind in Pennsylvania. Rabbit is not the "Updike who never went to Harvard", as some commentators claim; he is part of Updike's mind and always has been, part of our minds, the material man who sulks and gloats about sex and money. With Rabbit is Rich , the third novel in the sequence, the hitherto fruitless homage to Joyce finds a truly modern application; at last Updike is elaborating and not just annotating Ulysses, urging it further and deeper into the 20th century.

It comes in the form of Henry Bech, the eponym of Bech: A Book and Bech is Back Bech differs from Updike the writer: We're all Jewish here. Another voice, another "third person", witty, wounded and historically central. Then there is mainstream Updike, the fiction from the horse's mouth.

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Or it must be said from the horse's backside, in the case of The Witches of Eastwick , which has just been filmed. The movie is so preposterous that critics have been protective about its source, forgetting that the book is preposterous too: It would appear, though, that Updike is the better for the occasional holiday from merit or therapeutic indulgence , because his most recent novel is the near-masterpiece Roger's Version.

A meditation on death and creation in the pale light of a modern city, it is the richest, funniest and gloomiest book that Updike has yet written. To him, the future may not look as bright as it once did, but it has never looked brighter to his readers. It was his one profanity of the morning. He had just led me into the wrong car-park. We were leaving Mass General and proceeding to Harvard, where Updike had a lunch. But maybe you should have called it Divorce Me.

For the book is riven with divorce and its aftermath. Brave ex-wives and their watchful replacements, half-grown children seldom seen, possessions divided, houses scoured and then abandoned. Marriage was very erotic when I was growing up. You got married in college and had kids when you were still kids yourselves.

Four children in two-year notches. It was the same for everybody we knew. The marginal couples stayed together. The ones who were any fun all broke up. In my case we'd just had enough of each other. It was terrible for the children, having to become grown-ups overnight. This turned out to be the third time Updike and I had met. He couldn't remember the second time, when I had shaken his hand at a London publishing party.

And I couldn't remember the first time, when I was a nine-year-old resident of Princeton, New Jersey. You might have been in bed. We were all drunk but no one, I think, was as drunk as your father. It was a revolution for all of us - not just for Abbie Hoffman. Kind of a dark carnival. We were all wearing love-beads, in a way. Three years later, my parents duly divorced. Divorce, in those days, was like a dreadful disease that everyone's parents kept catching. It occurred to me for the first time that this had determined the pattern of my generation.

The children of these divorcees, we married late, had children late - too late, perhaps, for the body's good. Updike was delighted to hear about our strained backs and spongy knees, our pleading ankles.


Martin Amis recalls his meeting with John Updike — in a Massachusetts hospital | The Times

We left the hospital grounds and drove to Cambridge in Updike's powerful Audi. We drove from American sickness to American health - Harvard Yard, in July sunshine - and the student body, muscular and tanktop, yelling, jogging, frisbeeing, cartwheeling, and necking and quarrelling and breaking up. Updike's kids passed through here some time ago.

Whereas my first-born will be three in November. Sprawled here on the lawns, this particular batch seem to be oddly poised. Seventy-five per cent of them think that they will die in a nuclear war. Probably even more of them believe that they will meet their fate in a singles' bar.

The art of John Updike

Marriage has been re-eroticised for them, whether they like it or not. Nature doesn't really care about us at all. He was dropping off some paperwork at the Widener Library: We parted, and then he called me back, telling me to give his best to my parents. Watching him strut away, head in the air, I felt - suddenly and ridiculously - what it was to have been one of his children, and how I would have hated to see him go.

For the first time, Hope experiences unalloyed happiness, security and sustained encouragement for her own painting activities. Hope is a late blossomer and the blossoming survives the death of her third husband and her own relentlessly increasing decrepitude. By using a formal tape-recorded interview as the armature for the narrative, Updike has allowed himself the opportunity to double that narrative: The disparities between the two allow us to experience Hope's candour and her tact, the full dimensions of her character in fact.

When the two women break for tea or for lunch, when they visit Hope's studio and the Sony stays paused in the livingroom, other dynamics are enabled. Moments of tolerance and understanding, of suspicion and distrust add their quotas of relief and of drama. With Hope centre stage, Updike is enabled to offer sustained critical meditations on American art and art practice in the second half of the last century - a territory he knowns like the back of his hand. But Updike interweaves these meditations with his usual signature effects - the gloriously messy business of living captured in the precisions of wonderfully nuanced prose.

The final scene in this novel is a haunting and hallucination that no one but Updike could produce. I can just about imagine his little nose poking out of the pram to observe the world for the first time as a baby at home on the One Mile Road in Athlone. That watchfulness, that observing of the world, hasn't stopped since - which most of us will agree is a good thing because very few people have the wit and the brilliance to observe the world the way Declan Lynch does, as evidenced in Joanne Hayden For Wendy Erskine, the journey to publication has been serendipitous.

Three years ago, she was given one afternoon off each week from her job as a head of an English department in an East Belfast school. When Jane and Nicholas came back from Evensong, they found her crouching on the floor in the dining-room, delving in the dark sideboard cupboard among the empty biscuit barrels and tarnished cruets for the sherry decanter. It appeared that Prudence had forgotten Fabian to the same extent as she had forgotten Philip, Henry, Laurence, and the others.

That is to say he had been given a place in the shrine of her past loves; the urn containing his ashes had been ceremonially deposited in the niche where it would always remain. Philip, Henry, Laurence, Peter, Fabian and who could tell how many others there might be? She has begun to take a second look at Gilbert, a pallid co-worker who earlier had been deemed suspicious for his habit of making his own Nescafe at tea—and keeping it locked in his cupboard—not to mention his seeming impertinence upon discovering her taste in poetry:.

Prudence remained rooted to the spot; really, there was no way to describe it. That he should even have heard of Coventry Patmore! And then to quote those lines, those telling lines. What exactly did he mean by that? There are also hints of a newly-ignited spark with the dismal Dr. As for Jane, she too comes to a reconciliation, if not a state of bliss. Most of her books are still in print, but not widely distributed.

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Even a decade ago, when I sought to gather her entire canon as a wedding present for another fan, I had to search used bookstores and e-bay to find them in good condition. There are no Masterpiece Theater adaptations to boost sales, undoubtedly because there is so little drama to be mined. Another measure, albeit unofficial: I named my golden retriever Pym and promised myself to give a dollar to any and all who recognized the source. Another revival is overdue.

John Updike interview (1995)

I return to her books regularly, receiving as much solid pleasure as ever. Her wit is ever-fresh, and often so subtly embedded in the prose that it surfaces only after multiple readings. Pym generously peppers her prose with observations that both sting and tickle: She speaks to the inner spinster in all of us.

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His doctoral dissertation examined the lyrics of Stephen Sondheim. John Blow has forever lived in the shadow of Henry Purcell, his former student. Home About Contacts and Submissions. Here a group of women in Jane and Prudence gather to sort through the closets of a recently deceased neighbor—as a favor to her widower—to discern which clothes might be donated to the less fortunate: In one touching reverie, she reflects on what she has lost: Unsuitable, of course, but she loved the lines.

Here Pym allows Prudence to acknowledge her pain, but keeps bathos at bay with her typically ironic eye:

Tea For Two: An Interview with John Updike Tea For Two: An Interview with John Updike
Tea For Two: An Interview with John Updike Tea For Two: An Interview with John Updike
Tea For Two: An Interview with John Updike Tea For Two: An Interview with John Updike
Tea For Two: An Interview with John Updike Tea For Two: An Interview with John Updike
Tea For Two: An Interview with John Updike Tea For Two: An Interview with John Updike
Tea For Two: An Interview with John Updike Tea For Two: An Interview with John Updike

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