cover image Higher Gossip: 
Essays and Criticism

Higher Gossip: Essays and Criticism

John Updike, compiled and edited by Christopher Carduff. Knopf, $40 (528p) ISBN 978-0-307-95715-3

Carduff has finished the job Updike began before his 2009 death, assembling nearly 100 uncollected pieces by “the preeminent literary journalist of our times.” Predominantly comprising literary and art criticism from a range of magazines, the volume also embraces poetry, fiction, memoir, and Updike’s comments on his own work. The hallmarks of his agile, eloquent prose are evident throughout, along with an exactitude of expression that was Updike’s alone as he reviews works by such writers as John Cheever, le Carré, and Nabokov. Essays on artists such as El Greco, William Blake, and Turner, and some lesser known artists, blend his considerable knowledge with sometimes cranky wit: “For sheer viewer discomfort,” a van Gogh show at the Met forces “too many people... in ‘docile masses’ to see practically nothing.” The seven stories, including one initially accepted, then rejected, by the New Yorker, while not his best, are lively. Five essays on golf are humorous and wistful. The first piece, “The Writer in Winter,” mourns the aging writer’s occasional inability to think of the right word and defines the essence of fine prose, which “should have a flow, a foreword momentum of a certain energized weight; it should feel like a voice tumbling into your ear.” Updike’s does. 40 illus. (Nov. 2)