John Updike, R.I.P

I always wanted to be John Updike. I suppose it would be more accurate to say I always wanted to write like him. While reading Rabbit, Run, the first Updike book I ever read, I experienced a sensation much like eating too much wasabi on a California roll. My head cleared, all air passages expanded and I achieved a clarity that had previously eluded me. The dude could write. He could describe the mundane and make you think it brand new. You could always sense there was something more, lurking beneath the surface, deeper and worth more than a skim. Sure, he was a word smith extraordinaire (which could be a detriment at times), but it was more than that. He had a rare gift to be able to infuse words with life. Whether you were able to fully grasp all he was trying to say or not, you knew there was something there, dancing in the spaces around the letters and paragraphs. And I wanted to “get” it, so I continued to read.

That was what I wanted to do with my words. Heck, every writer should aspire to that but he was the first to give me something to aim for. Sadly, his kind of fiction is growing rare in print. I guess it would be labeled literary fiction today but most of what I read in that genre is long sentences that don’t register, are not memorable, and don’t offer a big enough payoff for the effort of slogging through it. (I must give a nod to Marilynne Robinson and her novel Gilead, which is one of the great stories I have read in the last three years, but she is an exception. A lonely exception.)

John Updike will be missed. Fortunately, the best thing about when a writer dies is his words do not die with him. May he rest in peace and may you go read one of his books.

No comments: