John Updike would have turned 80 on March 18, 2012. To celebrate the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist, Random House is re-releasing some of his most recognizable works, including the Rabbit series. The publisher is also releasing e-book editions of Updike’s entire back catalog, along with a posthumous essay collection, “Higher Gossip,” which will appear in paperback for the first time. Updike appeared on Fresh Air several times over the years. On Friday’s show, excerpts from several of those interviews will be played. Over his decades-long career, Updike authored more than 25 novels and over a dozen short story collections, as well as poems, essays and a memoir. Updike won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award in 1982 for his novel Rabbit is Rich and another Pulitzer in 1991 for Rabbit at Rest. He also received the National Book Award in 1964 for his novel The Centaur, which follows a depressed school teacher and his anxious son in rural Pennsylvania. In 1998, Updike was awarded the Medal of Distinguished Contribution to American Letters, a lifetime achievement award issued by the National Book Awards. He died of lung cancer on January 27, 2009. He was 76. MORE
These interviews were originally broadcast on March 17, 1988, March 16, 1989, and Oct. 14, 1997. You can listen to the original broadcasts in their entirety here.
NEW YORK TIMES: John Updike, the kaleidoscopically gifted writer whose quartet of Rabbit Angstrom novels highlighted so vast and protean a body of fiction, verse, essays and criticism as to earn him comparisons with Henry James and Edmund Wilson among American men of letters, died [January 27, 2009] at a hospice outside Boston. He was 76 and lived in Beverly Farms, Mass. The cause was cancer, according to a statement by Alfred A. Knopf, his publisher.
Where James and Wilson focused largely on elite Americans in a European context, Mr. Updike wrote of ordinary citizens in small-town and urban settings. His best-known protagonist, Harry (Rabbit) Angstrom, first appears as a former high-school basketball star trapped in a loveless marriage and a sales job he hates. Through the four novels whose titles bear his nickname — “Rabbit, Run,” “Rabbit Redux,” “Rabbit Is Rich” and “Rabbit at Rest” — the author traces the sad life of this undistinguished middle-American against the background of the last half-century’s major events. “My subject is the American Protestant small town middle class,” Mr. Updike told Jane Howard in a 1966 interview for Life magazine. “I like middles,” he continued. “It is in middles that extremes clash, where ambiguity restlessly rules.”
From his earliest short stories, set in the fictional town of Olinger, Pa., which he once described as “a square mile of middle-class homes physically distinguished by a bend in the central avenue that compels some side streets to deviate from the grid,” Mr. Updike sought the clash of extremes in everyday dramas of marriage, sex and divorce. The only wealth he bestowed on his subjects lay in the richness of his descriptive language, the detailed fineness of which won him comparisons with painters like Vermeer and Andrew Wyeth. This detail was often so rich that it inspired two schools of thought on Mr. Updike’s fiction — those who responded to his descriptive prose as to a kind of poetry, a sensuous engagement with the world, and those who argued that he wasted beautiful language on nothing. MORE
MARDOUVILLE: I like John Updike, sporadically. I’m reading him again right now (‘Trust me’, followed by ‘Licks of Love’, now on ‘Bech, a Book’). He’s prolific enough that I can spend a lifetime, I hope, dipping in and out of his books, enjoying and then becoming a little queasy with the sexy whiffs and gusts he emits. Right now I like him a lot.
It struck me (whilst reading ‘Licks of Love’ which features the above imagine Jane), that nobody writes so eloquently or gloriously on middle age as Updike does. His prose is as a luxurious reading experience as Nabokov- it really is- but more well rounded than the Zemblan master. Updike’s heroines are not slips of things, Adas or Lolitas but rather the aging, broad-hipped Charlotte Hazes.
He admires women wonderfully, on a good day and I do get a kick out of that male gaze, a man thinking about a woman, spilling the observations of his private mind. Updike, for me, is at his best when filtering women through his male gaze. That’s all he can do. He does it brilliantly in small doses. Give me an occasional Updikian smorgasbord, that’s what I want! Updike, you’re such a sexpot, I think you’re rather wonderful. MORE