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Infidels, Freethinkers, Humanists, and Unbelievers
Updike, John (1932 - )
"Whenever religion touches science, it gets burned. In the sixteen century astronomy, in the seventeenth microbiology, in the eighteenth geology and paleontology, in the nineteenth Darwin's biology all grotesquely extended the world-frame and sent churchmen scurrying for cover in ever smaller, more shadowy nooks, little gloomy ambiguous caves in the psyche where even now neurology is cruelly harrying them, gouging them out from the multifolded brain like wood lice from under the woodpile. Barth had been right: totaliter aliter. Only by placing God totally on the other side of the humanly understandable can any final safety for Him be secured."

-- John Updike


John Hoyer Updike is an American writer born in Reading, Pennsylvania. He lived in nearby Shillington until he was 13. Updike's most famous works are his Rabbit series (Rabbit, Run; Rabbit Redux; Rabbit Is Rich; Rabbit At Rest; and Rabbit Remembered). Rabbit is Rich and Rabbit at Rest both won Pulitzer Prizes for Updike. Describing his subject as "the American small town, Protestant middle class", Updike is well known for his careful craftsmanship and prolific writing, having published 22 novels and more than a dozen short story collections as well as poetry, literary criticism and children's books. Hundreds of his stories, reviews and poems have appeared in The New Yorker since the 1950s. His works often explore sex, faith, death, and their interrelationship.

Overview
As a child, Updike suffered from psoriasis and stammering, and he was encouraged by his mother to write. Updike entered Harvard University on a full scholarship. He served as president of the Harvard Lampoon before graduating summa cum laude (he wrote a thesis on George Herbert) in 1954 with a degree in English before joining The New Yorker as a regular contributor.

In 1957, Updike left Manhattan and moved to Ipswich, Massachusetts, which served as the model for the fictional New England town of Tarbox in his 1968 novel, Couples. In 1959 he published a well-regarded collection of short stories, The Same Door, which included both "Who Made Yellow Roses Yellow?" and "A Trillion Feet of Gas." Other classic stories include "A&P," "Pigeon Feathers," "The Alligators," and "Museums and Women."

He favors realism and naturalism in his writing; for instance, the opening of Rabbit, Run spans several pages describing a pick-up basketball game in intricate detail. His writing typically focuses on relationships between people; friends, married couples or extramarital liasions. Couples and the Rabbit tetralogy particularly follow this pattern. Through the four Rabbit books, the changing social, political and economic history of America forms the background to the Angstroms' marriage and acts occasionally as a commentary on it - and vice versa.

On occasion Updike abandons this setting, examples being The Witches of Eastwick (1984, later made into a movie of the same name), The Coup (1978, about a fictional Cold War era African dictatorship), and in his 2000 postmodern novel Gertrude and Claudius (a prelude to the story of Hamlet illuminating three versions of the legend including William Shakespeare's).

Other important novels include The Centaur (National Book Award, 1963), Couples (1968) and Roger's Version (1986). In addition to Harry 'Rabbit' Angstrom, a recurrent Updike alter-ego is the moderately well-known, unprolific Jewish novelist Henry Bech who is chronicled in three comic short story cycles, Bech: A Book (1970), Bech is Back (1981) and Bech At Bay: A Quasi-Novel (1998).

His stories involving the socially-conscious (and social-climbing) couple "The Maples" are widely considered to be autobiographical, and several were the basis for a television movie entitled Too Far to Go starring Michael Moriarty and Blythe Danner which was broadcast on NBC. Updike stated that he chose this surname for the characters because he admired the beauty and resilience of the tree.

While Updike has continued to publish at the rate of about a book a year, critical opinion on his work since the early nineties has been generally muted, and sometimes damning. Nevertheless, his novelistic scope in recent years has been wide: retellings of mythical stories (Tristan and Isolde in Brazil, 1994; a Hamlet prequel in Gertrude and Claudius, 2000), generational saga (In The Beauty of the Lilies, 1996) and science fiction (Toward the End of Time, 1997). In Seek My Face (2002) he explored the post-war art scene; in Villages (2004), Updike returns to the familiar territory of infidelities in New England. His 22nd novel, Terrorist, was published in June 2006.

A large anthology of short stories from his formative career, titled The Early Stories 1953–1975 (2003) won the 2004 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. He wrote that his intention with the form was to "give the mundane its beautiful due."

Updike is a well-known and practising critic (Assorted Prose 1965, Picked-Up Pieces 1975, Hugging the Shore 1983, Odd Jobs 1991, More Matter 1999), and is often in the center of critical wars of words. In retaliation for Updike's review of Tom Wolfe's novel A Man In Full, Wolfe called him one of "my Three Stooges" (the other two were John Irving and Norman Mailer). Updike has also been involved in critical disputes with Gore Vidal and John Gardner, authors renowned for their criticism of him and others.

Updike has worked in a wide array of literary genres, including fiction, poetry, essay, and memoir. His lone foray into drama, Buchannan Dying: a play, apparently constituted something of a reversal, since in a 1968 interview Updike claimed that "[t]he unreality of painted people standing on a platform saying things they've said to each other for months is more than I can overlook." He further said: "From Twain to James and Faulkner to Bellow, the history of novelists as playwrights is a sad one."

Updike has four children and currently lives in Beverly Farms, Massachusetts with his second wife, Martha. His new book is a collection of essays on art, Still Looking (Knopf, 2005).

Updike was the subject of a so-called "closed book examination" by Nicholson Baker, entitled U and I (Random House, 1991).

Updike has often been rumored to be among the front runners for the Nobel Prize in Literature. In 1998 Updike received an L.D. from Bates College.

Quotations
"[Rabbit] loves men, uncomplaining with their pot bellies and cross-hatched red necks, embarrassed for what to talk about when the game is over, whatever the game is. What a threadbare thing we make of life! Yet what a marvelous thing the mind is, they can't make a machine like it; and the body can do a thousand things there isn't a factory in the world can duplicate the motion." (Rabbit at Rest)

"Tell your mother, if she asks, that maybe we'll meet some other time. Under the pear trees, in Paradise." (Rabbit at Rest)

"Of plants tomatoes seemed the most human, eager and fragile and prone to rot". (The Witches of Eastwick)

"We all dream, and we all stand aghast at the mouth of the caves of our deaths; and this is our way in. Into the nether world.” (The Witches of Eastwick)

“We wake at different times, and the gallantest flowers are those that bloom in the cold." (The Witches of Eastwick)

"An Irish temper makes you appreciate Lutherans." (Terrorist)

 
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