Updike: America's Man of Letters

By William H. Pritchard | Go to book overview

NINE
POET, MEMOIRIST

In a 1997 interview with tv's Charlie Rose, its occasion the publication of Toward the End of Time, Updike spoke of his recent literary projects as "packing my bag a little bit." A glance at his work from the past ten or so years shows what he is referring to: Self-Consciousness, his memoir of 1989, he describes as a preemptive strike at would-be biographers, by way of providing at least "the elements of an autobiography." With Rabbit at Rest ( 1990) the Angstrom tetralogy was complete, and in 1993 appeared Collected Poems, 1953-1993, four decades' worth of serious and light verse. "Well, why would you collect your poems unless you were getting ready to go on a journey," he remarked in the interview. Many of the stories in Trust Me ( 1987) and The Afterlife ( 1994) are told from the retrospective viewpoint of an aging man, some of whose circumstances bear similarities to Updike's. In the Beauty of the Lilies ( 1996) is a family chronicle pursued through four generations, and Toward the End of Time ( 1997), while ostensibly a novel set in the future, is remarkably backward-looking in much of its temper. Bech at Bay ( 1998) seemed to have wound up the fortunes of Henry Bech by awarding him the Nobel Prize although he has since reappeared in a story. So on a number of fronts, and with the millennium upon us, Updike's metaphor of packing his bag seems accurate. This chapter deals with his most overtly reminiscential later work: the previously uncollected poems written after 1985, when Facing Nature, his fourth book of verse, appeared; and

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