Rabbit Angstrom: The Four Novels Rabbit Angstrom discussion


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Is it as easy as it looks to write with the dexterity of Updike? Is it nature? Is it Practiced? Or something else entirely?

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message 1: by Wayne (last edited Feb 09, 2009 06:37AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Wayne After 34 years of life, it took the death of this wondrous author to bring my attention back to his writing.

I've often read John Updike's various book reviews, cultural critiques and short stories, but this hulking taunting body of collected works, Rabbit Angstrom, the Everyman Library edition has sat upon my shelves for nearly two decades. Last week on my day off, post finishing Junot Diaz's, The Brief and Wonderous life of Oscar Wao, I caught the tale end of an interview, somewhere on NPR, of some author remembering Updike.

This inspired me to look further for memorials on his death and I came across one where Jonathan Lethem spoke of an in person sighting of Updike on September 11th, 2001, where they both were in a throng of people in Brooklyn trying to donate blood (unbeknown to them needlessly). This took me back to where I was that day, and brought me back to the humanity of shared tragedy. That connectedness made me realize I should read Updike next.

Here I sit a few hundred pages into "Rabbit Run" and the prose continually strikes me as some of the most magically lain to page that I've ever encountered.

How terrifically written is this? Beginning on page 118 in the Everyman's Library 1995 hardback edition of Rabbit Angstrom:

"A woman once of some height, she is bent small, and the lingering strands of black look dirty in her white hair. She carries a cane, but in forgetfulness, perhaps, hangs it over her forearm and totters along with it dangling loose like an outlandish bracelet. Her method of gripping her gardener is this: he crooks his right arm, pointing his elbow toward her shoulder, and she shakily brings her left forearm up within his and bears down heavily on his wrist with her lumpish freckled fingers. Her hold is like that of a vine to a wall; one good pull will destroy it, but otherwise it will survive all weathers."

I've re-read it about 5 times now, and each time, it is resoundingly beautiful.

I have to wonder out loud, is this the product of painstaking work and incredible facility with language? Or is it something else? Perhaps magic, perhaps a gift, perhaps luck?


Hollis I guess it must just be a combination of all those things. Obviously there is a great deal of hard work and practise involved in having a writing style like that, but also a great amount of instinct and talent as well: something that just can't be taught.


Nathan Phillips There's a great New Yorker about editing Updike and how he worked for two hours on the last sentence in a paragraph. Unfortunately, I think it's mostly work. Which sucks for people who just wish it was all talent.


Wayne I always thought it was work. My questions were more of a lofty rhetorical nature. ;)


message 5: by Pablo (new)

Pablo Talent imagines it...work gets it down on the page, then again, then again...


Rodney Welch I think with Updike it was a combination of both work and natural talent, which is usually the case -- but I also think, hard as he worked, it was easier for him to produce his prose than it would be for most other people. Updike wrote an enormous amount, and always at a high level: you can tell that just glancing at his body of work. Besides the novels, short stories and poems, he wrote brilliant criticism for The New Yorker and the New York Review of Books -- and some of those pieces were written in the space of a day or two. All those vast collections of criticism attest to someone who digested and discussed literature with a certain amount of comfortable ease. If you read his interviews -- or better yet, listen to them -- you can see how quickly he orders his thoughts, with very little hemming or hawing. He spoke in sentences and paragraphs. I've read articles about the brilliance of his very phone conversations, with the orderly flow of thoughts undisturbed by his grandkids running around in the background. I'm not saying he had it easy -- it takes hard work to live up the demands of that kind of gift.


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