MORE MATTER by John Updike

MORE MATTER

Essays and Criticism
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A strong gathering of essays, criticism, addresses, introductions, and autobiographical commentaries written and published over the past eight years. “Writing criticism,” Updike explains in an earlier collection of essays and occaisonal pieces, “is to writing fiction and poetry as hugging the shore is to sailing in the open sea.” And so it may be, but plying the estuaries of art and literature in the Updike dinghy remains a pleasure of considerable magnitude. The new book takes its title from Queen Gertrude’s admonition to Polonius: “More matter, with less art.” Luckily, Updike doesn—t stint on matter or art. Like its predecessor volumes, More Matter draws its appeal from Updike’s shrewd judgment and unique verbal sparkle, but also from his cosmopolitan range. He moves easily from Kierkegaard to Lincoln and Melville; from Edmond Wilson to Camille Paglia or Joseph Brodsky or Junichiro Tanizaki. The list could go on for quite some time; this book is nearly 1,000 pages long. The abiding Updike themes of sex and religion and the manifold perplexities of American life are in abundant evidence, but a new one appears alongside them: it is old age. Updike is now 67 and has during the 1990s begun to ruminate about what it means to be old and how the US has changed during his lifetime. He touches on it frequently, as in an essay on the liberating suntan culture of the 1950s and “60s: “The young married beauties with whom my then wife and I spent great chunks of summer sunning on a broad beach north of Boston have in the subsequent decades gone from being nut-brown Pocahontases to looking like Sitting Bull, with a melancholy facial fissure for every broken treaty.” The key word here is “melancholy,” for it is the mood that stimulates a good many of Updike’s insights throughout this superior collection. Updike declares in his preface that More Matter will be his last book of collected criticism. Let us hope he changes his mind.

Pub Date: Sept. 28th, 1999
ISBN: 0-375-40630-1
Page count: 928pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1999




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