Synopses & Reviews
John Updikes twentieth novel, like his first, The Poorhouse Fair (1959), takes place in one day, a day that contains much conversation and some rain. The seventy-eight-year-old painter Hope Chafetz, who in the course of her eventful life has been Hope Ouderkirk, Hope McCoy, and Hope Holloway, answers questions put to her by a New York interviewer named Kathryn, and recapitulates, through the story of her own career, the triumphant, poignant saga of postwar American art. In the evolving relation between the two women, the interviewer and interviewee move in and out of the roles of daughter and mother, therapist and patient, predator and prey, supplicant and idol. The scene is central Vermont; the time is the early spring of 2001.
"In his review of Byatt's novel for The New Yorker
, John Updike predicted that "the patience of all but a reader superhumanly tolerant of extended digression will creak and snap under the load of near-random texts, assembled by an author whose love of collection, of assembling and ordering, in this case quite overpowers any urge to tell a smooth story."
If only he'd remembered that commentary when writing Seek My Face." Ron Charles, The Christian Science Monitor (read the entire CSM review)
"In his new book...[Updike] has attempted to meld...art history with fiction. The result is a fascinating but not entirely successful hybrid....Updike has rarely paid so little attention to nuance and musicality; there are broken-backed sentences on every page....In this novel he may not succeed in finding the face he seeks; nevertheless the search throws up other discoveries, other recognitions, other illuminating revelations." John Banville, The New York Times Book Review
"[A] small though fiercely felt novel, and because it is John Updike, it can persuade you, antagonize you, irritate and please you all at once....It is mostly, though, a narrative bust....[T]his novel feels hollow, as though Updike were doing stunts in a skywriting plane, mostly to please himself. And Seek My Face doesn't fly; it sputters." Gail Caldwell, The Boston Globe
"It seems that having written so much so well, Updike has managed to free himself from nearly all convention. If he chooses to write a dense dialogue on the nature of art, then that dialogue itself suffices for the structure of the novel....It is wonderful to read a book that gives itself over so unabashedly to art. Whether Updike is being sly or straightforward, his focus on the importance of art is unwavering." Ann Patchett, The Washington Post
"Two women talking for nearly 300 pages not many novelists could make such an apparently spare exercise rich and engaging. But John Updike does, in a subtle work that's beautiful and profound, witty and trenchant." Paul Evans, Book Magazine
"The premise of Seek My Face is clean and powerful, like a canvas by Barnett Newman....Swirled over [the] simple, elegant premise is John Updikes superabundant prose, dazzling strings of looping sentences that wrap the two women in glittering constellations of words, glorious spurts..." Adam Begley, New York Observer
"[M]isbegotten....[A] graceless rewriting of recent art history, a trompe l'oeil that's bogus in every respect....[I]t's impossible for the reader to find a single believable character in Seek My Face. Hope's face is a blur, and Zack's face is that of Jackson Pollock, sketched in these pages by a lazy, voyeuristic and reductive hand." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
Updike's provocative 20th novel introduces 79-year-old painter Hope Chaftez, who is interviewed about her life by a New York journalist named Kathryn. The evolving relationship between the two women moves in and out of the roles of daughter and mother, therapist and patient, annunciatory angel and receptacle of grace.
About the Author
John Updike was born in 1932, in Shillington, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Harvard College in 1954, and spent a year in Oxford, England, at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art. From 1955 to 1957 he was a member of the staff of The New Yorker, and since 1957 has lived in Massachusetts. He is the father of four children and the author of fifty-odd previous books, including collections of short stories, poems, and criticism. His novels have won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the American Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Rosenthal Award, and the Howells Medal.