“John Updike Dies”

Dear Reader,

After I read the headline “Best-Selling Author John Updike Dies,” It seemed the only way to pay tribute to him is through sharing how his writing  altered my perception of literature.

It was summer of 1982, and sunshine heated the pages of the paperback Rabbit is Rich as I held it in my hand, as I sprawled on a red and green Indian blanket on my mother’s front yard. I read the novel’s first lines:

Running out of gas, Rabbit Angstrom thinks as he stands behind the summer-dusty windows of the Springer Motors display room [the car dealership he owns] watching the traffic go by on Route 111, traffic somehow thin and scared compared to what it used to be. The fucking world is running out of gas. But they won’t catch him, not yet, because there isn’t a piece of junk on the road gets better gas mileage than his Toyotas, with lower service costs.

I thought something was odd about Updike’s writing, but I couldn’t define what that was. I read further, and then it hit me. I thought Man, he’s writing about stuff I know about. (About the year 1979, Toyotas, Skylab, President Carter, The oil embargo, The energy crisis, Plaid polyester sport coats, Inflation, Blow-dried and hair sprayed men’s hair.) Everything he’s talking about is part of my life. Before this, I assumed literature had to be about the lives of people from the distant past, about distant past things―Chaucer, Poe, or Laura Ingalls Wilder things. Shakespeare, Whitman, or Byron things. Not my few-years-distant-past things. From then on, I searched for more novels like Updike’s.

I spent the next few days on that blanket, engrossed in Rabbit Angstrom’s   and my life.

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4 Responses to ““John Updike Dies””


  1. 1 mattiespillow 01/29/2009 at 8:57 am

    How strange it feels to be in a world without Updike. I always look for his stories and reviews in The New Yorker–he seemed to reflect back a world I know. As he began to age, his stories charted the path ahead fearlessly, with humor and with precise beauty of language.

  2. 3 coffee 01/30/2009 at 7:30 am

    John Updike’s passing is sad, but he left a ton of awesome work. “Immortality is nontransferrable” he said appropriately.

  3. 4 Faye Quam Heimerl 01/30/2009 at 6:20 pm

    Well well! Fantastic quote! Knowing what I know of Updike’s work, this is definitely HIM. Thanks for sharing it with me and my readers.


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