John Updike's Novels

John Updike's Novels

John Updike's Novels

John Updike's Novels

Excerpt

This book is called John Updike's Novels for two reasons.First, it does not discuss the other volumes in his astonishingly varied canon. My companion study, The Other John Updike: Poems/Short Stories/Prose/Play, was published by Ohio University Press in 1981 and suggests the shape of his artistic career outside the novel.Second, this book does not impose a thesis on Updike's development as a novelist.Several critical books with descriptive titles have already attempted a thesis-approach, among them Alice andKenneth Hamilton's The Elements of John Updike (1970), Rachael Burchard 's John Updike: Yea Sayings (1971), Larry Taylor's Pastoral Patterns in John Updike's Fiction (1971), Joyce Markle's Fighters and Lovers (1973), Edward Vargo 's Rainstorms and Fire: Ritual in the Novels of John Updike (1974), and George Hunt's John Updike and the Three Great Secret Things: Sex, Religion, and Art (1980). While these books are always interesting and often instructive, I wonder if a thesis should be forced on an author as prolific, as gifted, and as unpredictable as John Updike.His interests are so varied and his career so far from concluded that one never knows what the topic of his next book will be. Who, for example, could have foreseen The Coup? My primary goal, then, is not to urge a thesis on the canon but to offer an informed and careful reading of the novels in order to isolate and discuss the qualities that make Updike a great writer.

To this end I have examined hundreds of reviews and essays and have briefly outlined the highlights of the criticism to define not only the reception of each novel but also the critical controversy that is all but guaranteed each time Updike publishes a new title.Steady publication, occasional best-seller sales, literary awards, and critical debate keep Updike's work in the public eye more than one might imagine for such a major author.One might expect a writer ofUpdike's stature to be discussed only in the seminar room and the pages of the Hudson Review, to be unknown to general readers, and to be limited to respectable sales to serious book-buyers and academics, but such is not the case.John Updike is an easily recognizable name.Three examples will suffice for the mo-

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