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Updikeby Adam Begley
Synopses & Reviews
In this eye-opening, authoritative biography, Adam Begley offers a captivating portrait of John Updike, the author who saw himself as a literary spy in small-town and suburban America, and who dedicated himself to the task of transcribing "middleness with all its grits, bumps, and anonymities."
Updike explores the stages of the writer's pilgrim's progress: his beloved home turf of Berks County, Pennsylvania; his escape to Harvard; his brief, busy working life as the golden boy at The New Yorker; his family years in suburban Ipswich, Massachusetts; his extensive travel abroad; and his retreat to another Massachusetts town, Beverly Farms, where he remained until his death in 2009. Drawing on in-depth archival research as well as interviews with the writer's family, friends, and colleagues, Begley explores how Updike's fiction was shaped by his tumultuous personal life—including his enduring religious faith, his two marriages, and his firsthand experience of the "adulterous society" he was credited with exposing in the bestselling novel Couples.
With a sharp critical sensibility, Begley probes Updike's best-loved works—from Pigeon Feathers to The Witches of Eastwick to the Rabbit tetralogy—and reveals a surprising and deeply complex character fraught with contradictions: a kind man with a vicious wit, a gregarious charmer who was ruthlessly competitive, a private person compelled to spill his secrets on the printed page.
Candid, intimate, and utterly absorbing, Updike is a masterful biography of a national treasure whose writing continues to resonate like no one else's.
"This deferential but insightful biography takes its place among the go-to sources on the life of the Pennsylvania-born 'poet laureate of American middleness,' who died in 2009. Without always matching the laborious detail of Jack De Bellis's John Updike's Early Years (2013), this comprehensive account from literary critic Begley draws on deep research and interviews with the author and his circle to chart his early influences — in particular his ambitious mother, Linda — and rigorously explore the heavily autobiographical dimensions of his fiction and poetry. A homeward-looking yearning and an unswerving ambition run throughout Updike's life and career. In addition to his own astute observations, Begley (whose father was a Harvard classmate of Updike's) marshals revealing commentary by Updike's contemporaries, like college roommate and future historian Christopher Lasch, who discuss the hesitations and insecurities hounding him. Begley devotes hefty chapters to Updike's long relationship with the New Yorker, as well as the fame-making, family-growing Ipswich years from whence came Rabbit, Run. The book limns the conflicted emotional makeup beneath its subject's polished public persona, detailing his tenuous relationship with the WASP establishment, his restless sexual infidelities, and his alienation from 1960s counterculture. At the same time, Updike is revealed to have no great interior tumult on a par with that of his troubled alter ego, Harry Angstrom. Indeed, readers will see in Begley's Updike an exceptionally gifted, but in many ways mainstream, American man. 16-page b&w photo insert. Agent: Georges Borchardt, Georges Borchardt Literary Agency. (Apr.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
Adam Begley was the books editor for The New York Observer from 1996 to 2009. He has been a Guggenheim fellow and a fellow at the Leon Levy Center for Biography at the CUNY Graduate Center. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, The New York Times Magazine, The Guardian, the London Review of Books, and many other publications. He lives in England.
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