Wednesday, January 28, 2009


He was, in the view of magazine editors, the perfect New Yorker writer--a fount of elegant prose in every form over the Harold Ross and William Shawn postwar decades, a WASP outpost in the American mind being overrun by exotic Mailers, Bellows, Malamuds, Baldwins, Capotes and Kerouacs.

Those of us who came from an immigrant world read him in an effort to understand the rooted life that surrounded our metropolitan isolation. In his novels and short stories, we lived through the social and sexual arrangements of communities to which we did not belong (images of suburban wives opening their adulterous arms and welcoming neighbors' husbands to a post-Pill paradise).

What moved me most was to learn later that, behind that suave writerly voice, was a man literally uncomfortable in his own skin, suffering from psoriasis that made him feel like a leper, a subject which he of course wrote about beautifully, as he did with everything.

When John Updike died yesterday, he left behind more than fifty novels, short story collections, poetry, essays and reviews--a bookshelf of lovely language--by someone who, in his own way, was as much an outsider as the rest of us trying to connect with the life we all shared.

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