Updike, John

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Updike, John

John Updike, 1932–2009, American author, one of the nation's most distinguished 20th-century men of letters, b. Shillington, Pa., grad. Harvard, 1954. In his many novels and stories, written in a well-modulated prose of extraordinary beauty, lyricism, and dazzling fluidity and with a sure eye for the details of ordinary domestic life, Updike usually treats the tensions and frustrations of the middle class, often mingling the joys and sorrows of suburban life with a current of existential dread. His "Rabbit quartet," perhaps his most famous novels, begins with Rabbit Run (1961), which, set in Pennsylvania in the 1950s, concerns the young Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, a sort of surburban everyman who yearns for his days as a high school basketball star, hates his salesman's job, and, fleeing a loveless marriage, deserts his wife and child. The next books follow him through three decades of American life. In Rabbit Redux (1971), he confronts racial tension, job obsolescence, sexual freedom, drugs, violence, and the alienation of the young. The quartet continues with Rabbit Is Rich (1981; Pulitzer Prize) and ends with Rabbit at Rest (1990; Pulitzer Prize). The Rabbit characters are brought up to date in Rabbit Remembered, a novella-sequel included in the volume Licks of Love (2000).

Remarkably prolific, Updike produced about a book a year, publishing 60 volumes during his lifetime as well as reams of miscellaneous writings. His other novels include The Poorhouse Fair (1959); The Centaur (1962); the sensual Couples (1968); the exotic The Coup (1978); the wickedly comic The Witches of Eastwick (1984) and its sequel, The Widows of Eastwick (2008); the epic In the Beauty of the Lilies (1995); Seek My Face (2002); and The Terrorist (2006). Among his volumes of poetry, many consisting of light verse, are The Carpentered Hen (1958), Facing Nature (1985), Americana (2001), and Endpoint and Other Poems (2009). His many superb short-story collections include Pigeon Feathers (1962), Museums and Women and Other Stories (1972), Problems (1979), The Afterlife and Other Stories (1994), My Father's Tears and Other Stories (2009), and the linked stories that feature Updike's Jewish, urban, unmarried, and writer's-blocked alter ego, Henry Bech: Bech: A Book (1970), Bech Is Back (1982), and Bech at Bay (1998). Updike also wrote the play Buchanan Dying (1974) and a variety of nonfiction—literary criticism, e.g., Hugging the Shore (1983), Odd Jobs (1991), More Matter (1999), and Due Considerations (2007); art criticism, e.g., Just Looking (1989), Still Looking (2005), and the posthumous Always Looking (2012); and essays on numerous subjects, e.g., Golf Dreams (1996) and Higher Gossip (2011).

See his memoirs (1989); J. Plath, ed., Conversations with John Updike (1994); studies by D. Thorburn and H. Eiland, ed. (1979), W. R, Macnaughton, ed. (1982), J. Detweiler (rev. ed. 1984), J. H. Campbell (1987), J. Newman (1988), R. M. Luscher (1993), J. A. Schiff (1998), J. Yerkes, ed. (1999), W. H. Pritchard (2000), J. De Bellis, ed. (2005), and P. J. Bailey (2006); J. De Bellis, The John Updike Encyclopedia (2000).

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