Obituary: John Updike, Great Writer (not Jewish)

No, John Updike was not a Jew. Many of this great writer's characters, friends and detractors, were Jews.

Mark Feeney wrote a wonderful obituary for Updike in the Boston Globe. Here are a few excerpts from that Feeney essay:

Updike on America:
...beneath the comfortableness of the affluent, suburban settings Mr. Updike most often wrote about, and the glittering surface of his prose, were profound and piercing concerns. One was an ongoing examination of his native land. “America is a vast conspiracy to make you happy,” he wrote in the 1980 story collection, “Problems.”
Updike on Sex:
Another concern (unto obsession) was sex. Mr. Updike told Time in a 1968 cover story that when his wife read his then-scandalous novel “Couples” (1968) “she felt that she was being smothered in pubic hair.” Adultery looms as large in Mr. Updike’s fiction as paranoia does in Thomas Pynchon’s or hunting and fishing in Ernest Hemingway’s. “Sex is like money,” he once wrote; “only too much is enough.”
Updike on theology:
Mr. Updike focused on the spiritual no less than the carnal. "I wouldn't want to pose as a religious thinker," he said in a 1990 Globe interview. "I'm more or less a shady type improvising his way from book to book and trying to get up in the morning without a toothache.”

He was being unusually modest. Religion figures throughout Mr. Updike’s writing (fiction as well as essays). References abound to such religious philosophers as Kierkegaard, Paul Tillich, and Karl Barth. The protagonists of his novels “A Month of Sundays” (1975), “Roger’s Version” (1986), and “The Witches of Eastwick” (1984) are, respectively, a minister, a religious historian, and the Devil (memorably played in the movie adaptation by Jack Nicholson).
Updike's own religion:
Raised a Lutheran, Mr. Updike became a Congregationalist after moving to Massachusetts and later an Episcopalian. “The inner spaces that a good story lets us enter are the old apartments of religion,” Mr. Updike said in that Time 1968 interview.
Updike's Jews:
Henry Bech, the hero of “Bech: A Book” (1970), “Bech Is Back” (1982), and “Bech at Bay” (1998), is a much-lionized (and vaguely ridiculous) Jewish-American writer. As an undergraduate, Mr. Updike had been president of Harvard’s student humor magazine, the Lampoon. The Bech books are the most potent reminder of how playful and witty Mr. Updike could be when he so chose.

Bech was Mr. Updike’s riposte to those who consigned him to the tony blandness of WASP suburbia, the successor to John O’Hara and John Cheever in The New Yorker’s fiction pages. “A strangely irrelevant writer,” the critic Leslie Fiedler called Mr. Updike; “all windup and no delivery,” another prominent Jewish critic, Norman Podhoretz, wrote of Mr. Updike’s stories.
Updike on golf:
... his favorite sport ... (“Golf appeals to the idiot in us and the child,” Mr. Updike once wrote. “Just how childlike golf players become is proven by their frequent inability to count past five.”)
Read Feeney's entire essay at the Globe...

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