THE CENTAUR by John Updike


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As in his previous books, the tension here is in the style and words as well as in the narrative, and the worlds of George Caldwell and his 15 year old son Peter are heightened and illumined by them. This threads the legend of Chiron, the "noblest of all the Centaurs" who begged for death as an atonement for Prometheus' theft of fire, through the cumulative frustrations of the school teacher who knows the fury of living as well as the fury of failure; it reflects the effects on Peter as his orbit, physical and spiritual, closes in and stretches away from his father whom he senses needs a defender and an avenger; it encompasses a few days in which recall of the past and a look into the future inform the present. Wounded by an arrow- as was Chiron, George is further wounded by his principal's apparent humiliations; certain that he is harboring a fatal disease, he is not comforted when X-rays prove him wrong; increasingly ridden by guilt when he and Peter are caught in a near-blizzard, he returns home to the certain freedom of death. Peter's psoriasis, his love for Penny, his alerted sentience to his father's mounting despair are in counterpoint to his father's intense response to reality and equally strong sense of fantasy in which he is the Centaur....Poorhouse and Rabbit have won Updike critical acceptance and designation as the most conspicuously talented younger writer of the decade and there is a warmth here which may well admit and attract a wider audience. The transition of the relationship between father, no longer demigod, and son, comes through with a signal tenderness and implements Updike's established virtues, the glittering and polished prose and the mature alliance of form, function and symbol.
Pub Date: Feb. 4th, 1962
ISBN: 0394418816
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 1962


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