Wednesday, 4 February 2009

JOHN UPDIKE & SHORT FICTION




I've been thinking about John Updike's death and his stories over the past few days; I always enjoyed them, got quickly pulled in to them. I loved their honesty and rawness, especially when it came to men and women and the hurts they inflict on each other in relationships. (One of my major themes in To The World of Men, Welcome and in my next book, Nude).

I liked what Anne Enright said in The Observer on Sunday about the way he wrote about sex:

"I once spent about a year trying to think of a man who writes about sex properly, who isn't boasting. Then the name Updike came to me as someone who was writing something slightly boastful but real. All male authors seem to be either boasting or disgusted by sex; they write about it like it's the worst thing that could happen to anybody, whereas Updike took pleasure in it. He was helpless to the idea that the sentence should do something, and sometimes he gave into it too much, but the result is really lovely and somehow true about how we experience the world and sexual relations."

I haven't read Updike's novels but his short stories are hauntingly good; I wonder if shorter fiction was his favourite form? Alex Clark of Granta wasn't talking about him when she said the following, but it strikes me that it applies:

"[Short fiction writers] write short stories because they want to; because what they want to say and the way they want to say it is best accommodated and enhanced by writing over a shorter distance. It should be no more complicated than that."

Updike ruminated and internalised in his stories but, God, he did it in a way that sucked you in. I'm glad he was so creative (i.e. prolific); it means I have lots to catch up on.

9 comments:

Emerging Writer said...

William Boyd is a name that springs to mind. Love his stuff

Nik's Blog said...

You know, I've not read any of Updike's work (this will change, bear with me) but that hasn't stopped this being one of my favourite posts of the year.

Nik

Women Rule Writer said...

Kate - does Boyd spring to mind re writing about sex/men/women? I haven't read him yet, I don't think.

Nik - wow, thanks; that's a nice thing to say.
I recommend his stories. Not that I've read much. I always think it's a pity that an author's death makes him/her suddenly 'appealing' again.

Tania Hershman said...

I have really only now started reading Updike, I got down the Afterlife and Other Stories after tidying up and finding it on our shelves... and wow, I was stunned! I blogged about it here. You are spot on when you say he "ruminated and internalised in his stories", because he does do a lot of "telling", which might be seen as a cardinal sin in short fiction in certain schools (!), but somehow he grabs you at the beginning of a story and doesn't let you go. You can't even stop to think about stopping reading, he is such a master.

But - as I said to my short story workshop this week, after reading them the wonderful and erotic opening to Updike's "Tristan and Iseult" - this is his 10th collection, written 35 years after his first collection. This doesn't happen overnight. The confidence of his writing, the way you know from the first word that you are in safe hands and can let go into his writing, is soemthing that comes after years, decades. Something to aspire to. And yes, how fabulous that he wrote so much that now, belatedly, those of us who didn't read enough of him have much to catch up on!

Women Rule Writer said...

Hi Tania, I had read your blog post on Updike. Well said re 'something to aspire to' after years of work. I'm amazed how much I learn year on year, but we all have to start somewhere too.

Totalfeckineejit said...

Never read Updike but it's good to have recommendations to try out.I'll see if there's anythin in da castle librario.

Liz said...

Hi Nuala,

I thought I'd left a message here but maybe blogger's been up to its tricks! Just to say that I'm now curious to read some Updike and hopefully will do so soonish. Thanks.

Women Rule Writer said...

Total - since we don't have a library in OUR castle, I might just go to our local libo and see if they have any more Updike for me to devour.

Hi Liz, the same thing happens to me regularly. SO annoying.

I was reading him again last night; a story about two young daughters with their Dad. The conversations and embarrassments between them were perfect.

laurie said...

i've always thought his short stories wonderful. his novels are uneven--some are great (the rabbit novels, for instance) and some are less so (a whole raft of them--"marry me," and others). but his short stories are as full and rich in their own way as alice munro's and william trevor's.