Monday, October 27, 2008

Updike recommends himself to Obama, McCain

Asked by the Guardian what reading he would recommend to the presidential and vice-presidential candidates, John Updike recommends four novels by—John Updike.

My favorite line: “[Sarah] Palin is religious and so I am. She should read A Month of Sundays, which is about an errant minister rehabilitating himself in the Arizona desert.” Now, Updike may be religious in his private life. Who knows? There is utterly no evidence of it in his novels, but stranger transformations have occurred off the page. A Month of Sundays is no kind of religious novel, however. It is Updike’s effort to write like Peter De Vries—to pull off a comic novel about a Protestant minister whose private life is “coming loose, tumbling.” Updike is more interested in Rev. Mansfield’s tumbling—and in his golf scores—than in his redemption.

“[N]o U.S. novelist has mapped the solipsist’s terrain better than John Updike,” the late David Foster Wallace wrote eleven years ago in the New York Observer. Apparently, Updike never read that review; or at least he never took it to heart.

Wallace went on, mistakenly, I think, to describe Updike as the chronicler and voice of the 60’s and 70’s—“the single most self-absorbed generation since Louis XIV.” Don’t get me wrong. Wallace is not wrong about the self-absorption of either the 60’s generation or Updike. He was and is, however, the voice of no one other than himself.