Jenny McCartney laments the loss of a writer who captured the great shifts in American culture and politics.
By Jenny McCartney writing in The Telegraph 31 Jan 2009
I can remember as a teenager when I picked up Rabbit, Run, the first novel in Updike's series about the life of Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, a restless small-town car dealer unsatisfactorily married to his high-school sweetheart.
Yet Updike described Angstrom's inner life with such beautiful transparency that it became impossible not to identify with the character: his weaknesses, flashes of insight, guilt and the lustful tenderness he invariably felt for the women he let down.
In future novels, the great shifts in American culture and politics were all glimpsed through the narrow window of Angstrom – the chaotic household he set up with a hippy girl and a black drifter; his confused defences of the Vietnam War; his uneasy settling into prosperity and the slow surrender to old age.
Much has been made of the fact that The Literary Review last year awarded him a lifetime achievement award for bad writing about sex. Although the award was intended as a genial jeu d'esprit, the impression thereby created is unfair. In fact, few authors have written as lucidly or well about sex, although he wrote about it so much that the production of the occasional target for mockery was inevitable.
The nickname of Updike's most celebrated protagonist may have been "Rabbit," but Updike himself more resembled a hare: long-boned, elegant, playful and faintly elusive. Now that the author himself has slipped out of sight, his writing will keep reminding us that the most compelling literary drama is still discovered by digging deep into ordinary life.