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by John Updike

Pub Date: April 23rd, 1969
Publisher: Knopf

John Updike is a master of miniature effects. If there is anything that can be tellingly conveyed by the look of the land (Of the Farm), the suburban snapshot (Pigeon Feathers), the drama of domestic discontent and/or pleasure (Rabbit, Run; Couples), or the penumbra of memory (The Centaur), Updike's the one to do it. His prose is evocative, imagistic, modulated with infinite care, sophisticated and nostalgic. Updike, of course, lacking passion and idiosyncrasy, is primarily a writer of the Fifties. Perhaps that explains the surprising (and perhaps uncomfortable) eroticism of his recent novel, Couples, as well as the experimental nature of his long poem, Midpoint. The Sixties, with its pornography, irrationality, and confessional breast-beating, goes against the Updike grain. Updike is simply not the sort of literary figure who can walk naked gracefully, or even with verisimilitude. When he attempts, as in Midpoint, an intricate unveiling (free verse, plus terza rima, and other Audenesque derivations) of his public and private selves, he never strikes the necessary inner tone or directness of speech. "From Time's grim cover, my gruesome face peers out," sounds much too arch, too success-conscious and complacent. While his celebration of sexual bliss ("letter-slots are vaginas/ and stamps are semen swimming in the dark. . . your hips a table/ holding a single treat") is embarrassing. Updike is a conventional writer with a conventional temperament and the remaining shorter poems in his collection are tidy and unexceptional.