Updike RIP

Updike is dead, and now he is being obituarized past all scandals and humors.

This is from Rabbit Redux:

"Take off your clothes here."

The command startles her; her chin dents and her eyes go wide with fright. No reason he should be the only scared person here. Rich bitch calling his living room tacky. Standing on the rug where he and Janice last made love, Jill skins out of her clothes. She kicks off her sandals and strips her dress upward. She is wearing no bra. Her tits tug upward, drop back, give him a headless stare. She is wearing bikini underpants, black lace, in a pattern too fine to read. Not pausing a moment for him to drink her in, she pulls the elastic down with two thumbs, wriggles, and steps out. Where Janice had a springy triangle encroaching on the insides of her thighs when she didn't shave, Jill has scarcely a shadow, amber fuzz dust darkened toward the center to an upright dainty mane. The horns of her pelvis like starved cheekbones. Her belly a child's, childless. Her breasts in some lights as she turns scarcely exist. Being naked elongates her neck: a true ripeness there, in the unhurried curve from base of skull to small of back, and in the legs, which link to the hips with knots of fat and keep a plumpness all the way down. Her ankles are less slim than Janice's. But, hey, she is naked in this room, his room. This really strange creature, too trusting. She bends to pick up her clothes. She treads lightly on his carpet, as if watchful for tacks. She stands an arm's-length from him, her mouth pouting prim, a fleck of dry skin on the lower lip. "And you?"

"Upstairs." He undresses in his bedroom, where he always does; in the bathroom on the other side of the partition, water begins to cry, to sing, to splash. He looks down and has nothing of a hard-on. In the bathroom he finds her bending over to test the temperature mix at the faucet. A tuft between her buttocks. From behind she seems a boy's slim back wedged into the upsidedown valentine of a woman's satin rear. He yearns to touch her, to touch the satin symmetry, and does. It stings his figertips like glass we don't expect is there. Jill doesn't deign to flinch or turn at his touch, testing the water to her satisfaction. His cock stays small but has stopped worrying.”

I love the way the body takes on the action verbs. Not just that the cock stops worrying, there is also the lovely legs keeping a plumpness all the way down, and the curve of the neck that doesn’t hurry as it goes from the base of the skull to the small of the back. The work inside these paragraphs is about the easy, miniscule and multiple detachment of the subject self from its claim to be the master of the verbs, the loss of that standing here, the devolution of all capital power to cock and ass and their tactile sense of time and space as these categories come out of their abstract stupor. This is what made Updike love describing sex. Even Mailer, who shared that passion, is all too ready to let the subject parachute back into the fuck, whence it becomes a demonstration in a theorem. Not so Updike, for whom flesh is flesh all the way through. Of course, he has his ideas about it – sex is always about the war between men and women, and Updike is on the man’s side, and ultimately on God's – but his attitude towards fuck is much like that of Robert E. Lee’s toward the tactics and strategy of battle: It is well that war is so terrible - otherwise we would grow too fond of it. Which is where Presbyterianism lands you in the late 20th century.


roger said…
I just read, on the Observer site, that Updike was being given a bad sex writing award by the british Literary Review. That's a pretty funny award, and so Oxbridge Catholic! It is like a parody of the no sex, please, we are British cliche - and in fact one could very well award many, many British novelists the lifetime bad no sex award, for never getting near that dreadful subject.

He was awarded for this, from his latest novel:

'She said nothing then, her lovely mouth otherwise engaged, until he came, all over her face. She had gagged, and moved him outside her lips, rubbing his spurting glans across her cheeks and chin,' he writes. 'God, she was antique, but here they were. Her face gleamed with his jism in the spotty light of the motel room, there on the far end of East Beach, within sound of the sea.'

That's pretty tame for Updike, but why it should be particularly bad sex is interesting - because it would be more polite not to mention jism? No jism please, we're British? The critics who award this might consider awarding themselves the constipation award, for pretending that they aren't equipped with assholes.