Due Considerations: Essays and Criticism, By John Updike

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The Independent Culture

This is not so much a collection of essays as an orgy of feelings, facts, comments, musings, meditations. Do not consume at one sitting. What comes across above all is the sense of a man who is simply very nice, his Byzantine urbanity notwithstanding. In reviews, the generosity and the care Updike shows to other authors is humbling. His criticism always seeks out the best in his opponent's position.

He is unusual among major novelists in being a professed Christian, but unusual among professed Christians in seeming embarrassed about the fact. He admits that it is as much a matter of belonging to the community and to history as to God. In his essay, "The Future of Faith", he goes some way towards explaining his religious predicament. He speaks of taking "a certain contrarian pride in participating in ceremonies that, by the wisdom of the world, were profitless and irrational". That phrase "the wisdom of the world", a quotation from St Paul, is telling. While charting religion's long, slow sunset, he maintains that, "Our concepts of art and virtue are so tied up with the supernatural it is hard to foresee doing altogether without it."

Updike can occasionally remind one of a school swot, terribly anxious to display his knowledge of four-syllabled words without heed to the possibility that simpler ones might serve just as well. This combination of suburban insecurity and patrician flamboyance is what makes his prose at once so attractive and so irritating. There are times, also, when you want to scream, "I don't care about all these details!" But he does; and that care, that scrupulosity, hushes such petulance.

I still don't know, really, what he believes: you look in vain for the kind of unitary vision to be found in, say, Gore Vidal, but maybe that's all to the good.

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