Roth, Updike and the Failures and Hopes of Man

Call me an old fogey but I have just recently tired of novels with random plots, mini stories of sundry characters, and storylines that I have to work too hard to “get into”. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate the creativity and mental challenges many contemporary writers present, but for relief I have delved back into some of the writers of the 1950’s and 60’s.  Two of my favorites are Philip Roth and John Updike.

My Father’s Tears” by Updike is a book of short stories and the last work published before his death in 2009.  It’s a wonderful collection of polished solid stories- by this I mean they quickly draw you in and compel you to stay.  The subjects vary from a family on vacation in Morocco in 1969, innocent in their abilities and expectations, to a 50th high school reunion and a remembered walk home with a “first love”.  I could fall in love with his story titles alone: “Spanish Prelude to a Second Marriage”, “Delicate Wives” or “Free”.  Each piece is like a wonderful meal complete with dessert. For further reading of Updike I highly recommend his Rabbit series.  I believe it appeals because it illuminates that which makes men tick, in all their confusion, angst, good intentions, attempts at love.  Rabbit, as I see him,  is the universal man of any time or age.

Philip Roth’s body of work is a bit overwhelming but so worthwhile, starting with his Pulitzer Prize winning “American Pastoral.”  Currently I am reading his very first novel “Letting Go“, not as well known as “Portnoy’s Complaint” or “Goodbye, Columbus,” but so much broader.  All of his later themes are in this novel of two men whose lives continue connecting after college.  It is a detailed depiction of the 50’s and 60’s, a time when America was changing in historical ways. These were the days of illegal back alley abortions, and the consequences thereof, and a strident adherence to keeping up appearances. There are many references to the cost of things and wages of the times, which can cause the reader to smile in disbelief.  I highly recommend taking a step back in time with this fine writer and read either his well known “Goodbye, Columbus” or dig in for a long read with” Letting Go.”

Whichever story(ies) you choose, both authors give you snapshot after snapshot of a place and time and the beating hearts of each. These snapshots come equipped with magnifying glasses which illuminate the soul of what is truly American.

Posted by Donna

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