Updike: America's Man of Letters

William Pritchard, Author
William Pritchard, Author Steerforth Press $27 (325p) ISBN 978-1-58642-002-4
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A savvy literary critic, Pritchard (Talking Back to Emily Dickinson, and Other Essays) proves his credibility early on in this friendly treatment of Updike's life and work by aptly comparing the writer to Nathaniel Hawthorne, William Dean Howells and Edmund Wilson rather than to expatriates Henry James, Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot. Like the first group, Updike ""mainly stayed home, thinking it his primary task to give us reports and bulletins on American manners."" Perhaps even more than the others, Updike is known for his affirming tone, a sunniness that annoys those who insist that writers must be social critics. Updike, he observes, ""attends church, refused to condemn American involvement in the Vietnam War, and has even confessed satisfaction with Bill Clinton as president,"" though this is not to say that he is a facile cheerleader or anything less than a writer as serious and complex as--Pritchard again shows his uncanny gift for apt comparison--Robert Frost, William Carlos Williams and James Joyce. Pritchard writes with both uncommon clarity and easygoing erudition as he argues the case for an author who views his country and its culture with a certain skepticism yet, in the end, approbation. Surveying Updike's books chronologically, including not only the fiction but also the poems, essays and reviews, Pritchard is less an interpreter than a literary gourmand who savors and relishes a literary career that he sees as ""the unfolding of a self"" as well as ""the unfolding of a society and a nation--America in the second half of our century."" (Sept.)
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