SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS: Memoirs by John Updike
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Six iridescent essays in lieu of an autobiography. Updike penned these luxurious self-examinations soon after someone informed him of a "repulsive" plan to write his biography. Although the pieces collected here will surely not fend off the multiple Lives to come, they do provide snug, friendly glimpses into the reflective mind of a writer abnormal in his normality (churchgoer, Democrat, cheerful participant at town meetings); they also confirm Updike's status as one of America's foremost literary stylists. In "A Soft Spring Night in Shillington," a tour-de-force of compressed memories, he walks through his Childhood while wandering his hometown streets one rainy night in 1980. "At War with My Skin" documents his lifelong struggle against that silver-scaled beast, psoriasis, and doubles as a celebration of the Puritan enclave of Ipswich, Mass., where he lived for over a decade, became rich and famous, and learned to swim in the "soft, pale-green ocean." "Getting the Words Out" dissects the author's difficulties with speech (he stutters), asthma, claustrophobia, and his redemptive love affair with writing. In "On Not Being a Dove," Updike discusses his ambivalence about the Vietnam War. The least successful essay, "A Letter to My Grandson"--too private to generate general interest--explores the genealogy of the "big, bumptious race" of Updikes. Finally, in "On Being a Self Forever," Updike longs for an afterlife, wonders "Where does the self dawn?" and asserts his lasting conviction that "the self's responsibility. . .is to achieve rapport if not rapture with the giant, cosmic other: to appreciate, let's say, the walk back from the mailbox." Self-probings--sometimes facile, sometimes dead-on--of a complex, funny, modest man, framed in glorious prose. A neat masterpiece of literary undressing.

Pub Date: March 18th, 1989
ISBN: 394-57222-X
Publisher: Knopf
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