Some people criticize John Updike, saying he objectified women, portraying them as mere sex objects and so on.
I never saw it that way, even though I read Rabbit Run the summer of my 13th year and felt my world split open upon reading the sex scenes.
‘Grownups do this?’ I asked myself stunned. This is what they’re up to when they’re not buttering our toast or rotating the tires on the family car?’
My big sister Nan had tried to clue me in on the particulars of sex; by the time she was ten she had sent away for a thousand pamphlets on the subject.
And certainly her information was better than what the boy down the street said happens after you get married: He said they then take you into a secret room and tie you together by your underpants.
What Updike described was much more specific. And once you got used to reading the actual truth, anything but shocking.
No, he never objectified women, in my book; in my book he only loved and noticed them.
He is the person who singlehandedly opened my eyes to writing.
Three years he is gone now and it has taken me almost that long to read his final collection of short stories, slim as it is. I just didn’t want it to end, knowing there would be no others.
Here’s one thing he said that I love and agree with. He said his theory was that God already knows everything and can not be shocked.
In the same essay he also said,
Only truth is useful. Only truth can be built upon. From a higher, inhuman point of view, only truth, however harsh, is holy. The fabricated truth of poetry and fiction makes a shelter in which I feel safe, sheltered within interlaced plausibility in the image of a real world for which I am not to blame. Out of soiled and restless life, I have refined my books.
I love that last sentence: Out of soiled and restless life I have refined my books. And I understand exactly the part about the shelter his creative writing made for him, remembering a description earlier in this book of the place he loved best as a child: it was the spot on the side porch of his first home where he would upend and then hide under the wicker furniture to become the observer unobserved.
It’s what I wanted to be since my own baby days, only my spot was under the dining room table. Now I lurk in my car or on the park bench, listening to the old men and yelping teens and the women together talking. It’s what I have been since the dawn of the Reagan years when I began writing my column. For all these years I have written every week for the papers and now, here on this blog, I write every day.
Seeing and then telling what you have seen is for me what I think it was for him too: merely a way of saying thanks for it.