Tuesday, January 27, 2009

We've Lost a Giant

The nuances, subtlety, and depth of Updike's writing takes my breath away - fluid word choices, perfect names, exquisite description, and spot-on characterization. Often overlooked, undervalued or taken for granted, Updike's works embody the attributes of great world literature in the vein of Hawthorne, Dickens, Voltaire, Hardy, Twain, Conrad, Marquez, Tolstoy and others. He captured the evolving life of the new American frontier: suburbia, family, love/marriage/divorce, society, sex, politics, consumerism, intellectualism, religion ... and did this with humor and pathos. Holding a fun house mirror to foibles and flaws, joys and achievements, setbacks and defeats, Updike fearlessly observed and carefully noted the passing of American trends, beliefs, life, and language.

In today's world of commercial fiction, his like may not come again -- or not for a long time. Few writers today study metaphor, history, language, and form with the intensity that Updike studied and wrote. I'm sure I could come up with names and books in today's literary fiction, but at the moment, I'm feeling hollow and pained, my heart beating a mournful taps.

I wrote my dissertation on his works -- more than twenty years ago. Immersed in his language and thoughts, I found myself striving to become a better observer and a better writer. He gracefully led me to a craft that became my life's work. I owe him. I can only hope I return the favor some day in leading my students to an appreciation of the written word and the joy of writing.

Sad day.

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