Tuesday, January 27, 2009

John Updike Dies at 76

Txt from CNN.com

Author John Updike, regarded as one of the greatest and most prolific writers in modern American letters, died Tuesday, his publicist said. He was 76.

John Hoyer Updike was born March 18, 1932, in Reading, Pennsylvania, and grew up in Shillington. From an early age he took to reading and writing, and earned a full scholarship to Harvard, where he headed the Harvard Lampoon. Upon graduation, he accepted a one-year fellowship to Oxford University in England. By the time he was 23, he had been offered a position at The New Yorker, which was to become his literary home over the next 50-plus years.

Updike's first novel, "The Poorhouse Fair," came out in 1959. The next year, in "Rabbit, Run," he introduced Angstrom, who was to become one of the most famous characters in American fiction.

When introduced, Rabbit is a man fleeing his pregnant wife, the songs on the car radio reflecting both the era and his life. Over the course of the "Rabbit" books, the character would routinely infuriate his spouse, mistresses and offspring, try to make things right, and never quite succeed.

His attitude didn't help. "Men are all heart and women are all body. I don't know who has the brains. God maybe," the character said in "Rabbit, Run."

"Rabbit, Run" was successful, as were Updike's other '60s books, including "The Centaur" (1963), which featured a teacher much like Updike's father, and the short story collection "The Music School" (1966). But it was "Couples" that made Updike a household name. The book, about a group of spouses engaging in the sexual revolution in suburban Massachusetts, became a No. 1 best-seller.

Updike's interests ranged widely. He wrote about an African state in "The Coup" (1978). He discussed the relationship between science and religion in "Roger's Version" (1986). He revisited "Hamlet" in "Gertrude and Claudius" (2000). And he created a group of promiscuous witches in "The Witches of Eastwick" (1984), which became a hit movie in 1987 starring Jack Nicholson as the devil.

Though Updike's work routinely sold well, he was painfully aware of the decline of what's come to be called "literary fiction." In a 2000 interview with Salon, he lamented its difficulties.

"When I was a boy, the best-selling books were often the books that were on your piano teacher's shelf. I mean, Steinbeck, Hemingway, some Faulkner. Faulkner actually had, considering how hard he is to read and how drastic the experiments are, quite a middle-class readership," he said. "But certainly someone like Steinbeck was a best-seller as well as a Nobel Prize-winning author of high intent. You don't feel that now."

Updike's most recent novel, "The Widows of Eastwick," came out in 2008. A collection of stories, "My Father's Tears and Other Stories," is due out later this year

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