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Updike, John

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1932-2009) US author whose carefully polished and opulent style led him more than once beyond the constraints of the mimetic, though he never abandoned his conviction that the narrative conventions of realism necessitously sufficed to describe the world, and he was in this sense a paradigmatic Mainstream Writer of SF; his aversion to genres in literature was conspicuous, as shown in a remarkably obtuse review (20 March 1995 The New Yorker) of John Le Carré's Our Game (1995).

All the same, as if by magic, elements of Fantastika appear throughout his work: even his first novel – The Poorhouse Fair (1959), in which a Near-Future institution for the aged serves as the focus of a popular revolt – is clearly if somewhat demurely sf. The Centaur (1963) is a heavily allegorized Fabulation in which mythological avatars haunt present-day characters. Two thematically linked tales, "During the Jurassic" (Summer 1966 The Transatlantic Review) and "Under the Microscope" (Spring 1968 The Transatlantic Review), describe cocktail parties with dinosaurs and pond life, spoofishly Satirizing human society; "Jesus on Honshu" (25 December 1971 The New Yorker) features the escape of an uncrucified Christ to Japan, where he makes a life. The Chaste Planet (10 November 1975 The New Yorker; 1980 chap) is set on the planet Minerva, itself embedded (see Pocket Universe) within the liquid vastnesses of Jupiter. The government that is toppled in The Coup (1978) had ruled an imaginary country – even though Updike's adversion to such venues was eloquently expressed in his comments (2 August 1969 The New Yorker) on Vladimir Nabokov's Ada (1969). Invasion of the Book Envelopes (20 July 1981 The New Yorker; 1981 chap), is a brief Parody of the Invasion tale.

The first volume of the Eastwick sequence, comprising The Witches of Eastwick (1984) and The Widows of Eastwick (2008), may seem uneasy with the fantasy premises it invokes, but proves all the same to be a genuine tale of the supernatural involving a Devil-like male (see Gods and Demons) and three women whose Psi Powers develop alarmingly; the sequel does not disconfirm the premise, but argues it no further [for The Witches of Eastwick (1987) directed by George Miller see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. The protagonist of Roger's Version (1986) engages implicitly (but in narrative terms unmistakably) in literal Telepathy, neither delusional nor unduly allegorized, as he examines the mores of those around him and scrutinizes their actions, evoking en passant a theological climate uncannily akin to that created by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Brazil (1994) is a magic-realist fantasy based on the story of Tristram and Iseult; a ghost appears, somewhat inconsequentially, in Gertrude and Claudius (2000) (see William Shakespeare).

Updike's last novel of any significance, Toward the End of Time (1997) depicts a Post-Holocaust semi-independent Massachusetts beginning – as the consequences of a World War Three continue to debride America – a long slide into Ruined Earth status; the elderly protagonist of the tale himself slides into Alternate Worlds which, whether imagined or real, effectively dramatize different outcomes of his tangled affairs. [JC]

John Hoyer Updike

born Shillington, Pennsylvania: 18 March 1932

died Boston, Massachusetts: 27 January 2009

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