Tuesday, January 27, 2009

John Updike, 1932-2009. R.I.P.

Novelist John Updike has died today of lung cancer. He was 76 years old.

I have not read any of Updike's novels so I could not do him justice in the way someone like Martin Amis could. However, I have read enough Updike to know we shall probably not see his like again.

Specifically, I am referring to an essay Updike wrote for The New Yorker back in October 1960. Updike was at Fenway Park to bear witness to Ted Williams' last major league game in which he hit a homerun in his final at bat. Simply titled 'Hub fans bid Kid Adieu', Updike described Williams' long career in Homerian terms. Updike's article was reprinted in The Boston Globe after Williams died in 2002. (http://www.boston.com/sports/redsox/williams/july_7/updike_essay.shtml)

The Williams essay would certainly give readers unfamiliar with Updike a cup of coffee into his writing. For instance in describing Williams' early career, Updike writes:

Greatness necessarily attracts debunkers, but in Williams' case the hostility has been systematic and unappeasable. His basic offense against the fans has been to wish they weren't there. Seeking a perfectionist's vacuum, he has quixotically desired to sever the game from the ground of paid spectatorship and publicity that supports it. Hence his refusal to tip his cap to the crowd to turn the other cheek to newsmen. It has been a costly theory - it has probably cost him, among other evidences of good will, two Most Valuable Player awards, which are voted by reporters - but he has held to it. While his critics, oral and literary, remained beyond the reach of his discipline, the opposing pitchers were accessible, and he spanked them to the tune of .406 in 1941. He slumped to .356 in 1942 and went off to war.

Ladies and gentlemen, you cannot find writing of this calibre in Sports Illustrated or on ESPN.com. Nor for that matter The New Yorker.

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