Cromey Online

The writings of author, therapist, and priest Robert Warren Cromey.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

John Updike Died in January

We all want God to exist: “to be our rescuer and appreciator, to act as a confidant in our moments of crisis and to give us reassurance that over the horizon of our death, we will survive.”
-John Updike

Well, now he knows if he has survived.

I always loved his novels, stories and reviews. He was always, fair, kind and humane even when he disagreed with authors and events. Not everyone liked his works. A good friend of ours always referred to him as John Upchuck and she did not like his books.

I always felt a peculiar affinity for him as a friend in seminary roomed with Updike in that year they spent together at Oxford in England in the 1950’s. I don’t think my friend said anything about him except the fact of being roommates. In fact I read in a post mortem piece that Updike’s first wife was with him at Oxford. So maybe my friend didn’t room with John. Nevertheless that story, true or not, made me feel close to Updike.

His novel Couples spoke to me directly as I was in the midst of wrecking my marriage by being sexually involved with other women. I enjoyed his graphic depictions of sex and detailed observations of the smallest details of a person, a room or a setting.

He was one of a very few modern writers who took his religion and religion in general seriously, without sentimentality or explanation. So many writers blandly dismiss religion as something they gratefully gave up at thirteen or in college and never looked back. Neither did most of them study the Bible or religion beyond a sophomoric self-righteous rejection of it. Ian McEwan in the February 23, 2009 The New Yorker joins the list of theological illiterate novelists.

Updike like Philip Roth had hard philosophical passages in their novels that confused me, made me think, and exasperated me in their complexity. While telling a really good story, they also made me think.

I did not know until I read post mortems that he had supported the Vietnam War. I was disappointed to read that, but it does not diminish my admiration for him and his work.

He spoke in San Francisco just late last year and I did not go to hear him. I do regret that now. I am told that Updike interviews on Charlie Rose can be heard from Rose’s website archives. I have enjoyed some the aired interviews that were played after his death at only seventy-six years old.


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