Tuesday, January 27, 2009

A Prayer for John Updike

Author John Updike died today at age 75 after a long battle with lung cancer.
For some reason, I always mix up John Updike and John Irving. I've read books by both authors, and while both are excellent, there are profound differences. Nonetheless, when Updike's death was announced today, in my head it was John Irving that had died. I even wrote a post saying Irving had died, which may still be lurking in your Google Reader (ignore please!).


As far as I can tell, John Irving is not dead. He did, however, write of one of my favorite books of all time, A Prayer For Owen Meany, a book that is laugh-out-loud hilarious and cry-out-loud sad, heavy with political criticism and religious symbolism, full of subtleties and wit and insight. I love how it makes you think about faith and doubt. And no matter what year it is when I read it (and I probably re-read it every 5 years), there is always some scandal going on in Washington that can be substituted for the Oliver North hearings that take place in the present-day chapters of the novel. One year it was Clarence Thomas/Anita Hill. one year it was Whitewater, one year it was Clinton/Monica, etc. Same thing, different year. Sometimes I'm tempted to skip those parts and just savor the flashbacks to Owen and Johnny's life in their little town in New Hampshire in the 1950s-60s, but the political bits are key to the book and do tie in to the observances made by two young boys as they tried to find their way in their world.

"A LITTLE BREATHLESS, VERY BEAUTIFUL, MAYBE A LITTLE STUPID, MAYBE A LOT SMARTER THAN SHE SEEMED." (Owen's reference to Marilyn Monroe being just like America...).

Thank you Mr. Irving AND Mr. Updike, for your wonderful words, and peace to you both.

8 comments:

Raina said...

I adored "The Hotel New Hampshire." I've never cried harder reading a book than when I read the chapter that opens with Mary's and Egg's death.

Pen Pen said...

I LOVE 'A Prayer for Owen Meany'! It's one of the classics and my heart stopped for a moment when I saw the book cover and 'death' so near to it--With Updike I've only read 'The Witches of Eastwick' and a couple short stories, but it's a great loss! I HATE when authors die...I feel like some piece of public art has been defaced or something...

only a movie said...

I am sad about John Updike too. I loved the Rabbit series, and one of his more recent ones, Toward the End of Time stuck with me for some reason. Maybe the setting (right where I lived at the time).

And Owen is my favorite book ever. I re-read it every so often too. I finally watched the movie (Simon Birch) after years of ignoring it because there was no way it could be better. It's actually not too horrible a movie.

But that book, omg, when I saw the cover and the word "death" in my google reader, my heart did a little flip. :-)

Julia @ Hooked on Houses said...

I was an English major and so we read and studied both Irving and Updike in college. I was very sad to hear Updike had died today. Makes me want to get some of those old books out again and re-read. I have a feeling I would appreciate the Rabbit books much more now than I did as a teenager!

twoladiesinwaiting said...

I didn't even realize that I confuse the, too, until you enlightened me.

coffee said...

Interestingly, i just recently discovered John Updike... I haven't fallen in love with all of his work yet, but i'm warming up to his candid writing style;

his passing is a sad loss indeed

Pseudonymous High School Teacher said...

I think I need to reread Owen. It's been a long time.

Robin said...

Ha! I am not alone! Other people confuse Irving and Updike (per Irving himself): http://www.slate.com/id/2209975/