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Home Uncategorized Increments of Uncertainty

Increments of Uncertainty

Kevin Stevens
My Father’s Tears, by John Updike, Hamish Hamilton, 288 pp, £18.99, ISBN: 978-0241144596   Midway through the novella Rabbit Remembered, John Updike’s coda to his Rabbit Angstrom tetralogy, Rabbit’s son Nelson dreams he sees, through his bedroom window, a tall man practising chip shots in the moonlight. Though Nelson is terrified that the golfer is going to turn and look at him, the man remains bent over in “patient concentration, as if on a task he has been assigned for eternity”. Neither in his dream nor when woken does Nelson admit what the reader knows – that the homeless man in the back yard is the ghost of his father, dead ten years, his spirit untethered, his house and wife usurped by his lifelong friend and nemesis, Ronnie Harrison.   Since Updike’s death last January, there have been times when, opening the New Yorker or the New York Review of Books, I’ve had a waking dream of finding a piece written by his ghost – an account of a Stygian passing to another realm perhaps, or a short story set in whatever afterlife he’s landed in, observed, of course, with lapidary detail, gentle humour and revealing irony. Over many decades, I’ve grown used to seeing Updike turn his worst experiences – a failed marriage, health problems, the onset of old age – into exquisite fiction. How could he stop now? What else would he be doing for eternity?   It’s hard to accept he’s gone. Like his finest creations, Updike was larger than life, and his death came as a shock, not because he was young (he would have been 77 last March), but because his literary voice, so easeful, so urbane, so informed, which had probed the American quotidian in fiction, poetry, and criticism with unmatched skill and sympathy for more than fifty years, sounded as if fit to continue for another fifty. His great subjects were sex, death, religious faith and the mixed blessings of love and life, and variations on these themes flowed from his desk with a kind of exponential wisdom, evolving alongside timelines personal and national, shaped by each stage of his experience and infused with the distinctive social flavour of the decades in which they were written, from the suppressed libido of the Eisenhower fifties to the aw-shucks hysteria of the Bush II years. Postwar and now post-millennial America does not seem complete without him.   His output…



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