The Coup • The Witches of Eastwick •
Roger's Version • S
The Maples stories, and the related ones from Problems — a number of them written during the years of marital separation and remarriage — testify to Updike's powers as a realist, an observer and recorder of domestic life in America the way it was lived at a certain moment in our culture. Yet even as he was writing them, we can imagine him plotting how to break out of his encapsulation as the small-town chronicler of, first, Pennsylvania boyhood, then New England adult life. A Month of Sundays, with its flagrantly provocative tone and texture, was the first step in that direction. In 1978, the year after his marriage to Martha Bernhard, Updike produced, to the surprise of more than one of his readers, a novel that in its pace and characters seemed as far as one could get from Middle-Atlantic reality. In its fabulous account of an African dictator, his American past, and his present decline into private citizenship, The Coup showed a different Updike from a writer who after twenty years of fiction might have been content to rest on realist laurels. Instead he came across as dazzler and showman, as Nabokovian illusionist, in a more radical way than he had hitherto demonstrated. Predictably, and as was the case with the "extravagant" novels that followed it in the 1980s, The Coup was ambiguously received and — as with those novels to come — consensus is lacking about its artistic place and value in Updike's work.