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Upholding the patriarchy, one blog post at a time

A white male writes:

Your recent post reminded me: partly because of your previous posts, I spent a fair amount of the last two years reading Updike, whom I’d never read before. It was time well spent. Thank you for mentioning him in your blog from time to time.

I find early Updike to be uniformly good, but later Updike novels are more uneven. I liked Rabbit is Rich and many of the later stories and criticism, but I tried to read Roger’s Version once and found it unreadable, even incompetently written.


  1. David says:

    Have you read Patricia Lockwood’s essay about Updike (she reread all of Updike) in the London Review of Books?

    It’s not a “takedown,” though it does begin, “You don’t bring in a 37-year-old woman to review John Updike in the year of our Lord 2019 unless you’re hoping to see blood on the ceiling.” And it only gets more entertaining from there.

  2. John Bullock says:

    The Lockwood review is smart, with a lot of calibrated praise and criticism. It’s not what its first paragraph may suggest.

    Another review of Updike’s work came out at about the same time. This one, in TLS, was by Claire Lowdon: also a woman in her thirties, also a novelist. And Lowdon’s review is worthwhile, too, though it didn’t get nearly as much attention. It’s more positive and more focused on Updike’s early work. (Both reviews were pegged to the Library of America release of Updike’s early novels.)

    David Foster Wallace covered this ground before, but: it’s still interesting to see how different these reviews are from the ones that Updike got in his heyday. Both Lockwood and Lowdon have a lot of praise for Updike—but nothing like this, from Richard Locke, back in 1971:

    I can think of no stronger vindication of the claims of essentially realistic fiction than this extraordinary synthesis of the disparate elements of contemporary experience.

    Locke was reviewing Rabbit Redux for the Times. And the Times published a second review of the book, this one by Anatole Broyard. It is so ecstatic that it’s a little hard to read even if you admire the book. It closes with

    [F]or God’s sake, read the book. It may even—will probably—change your life.

    When is the last time that any work was widely received not only as beautiful in itself, but as epochal or as the vindication of an entire mode of writing?

    • Andrew says:


      Speaking of unalloyed praise, have you ever listened to the New Yorker fiction podcast? I like it, but it’s kind of amazing how they treat every writer and every story as if they’re perfect.

    • Andrew says:

      P.S. Just wondering: how do you know that Lowdon’s review got less attention than Lockwood’s? I read Lockwood’s because I subscribe to LRB and not TLS, but there must be lots of people who read TLS but not LRB, no?

      P.P.S. Years ago I occasionally read LRB and TLS, but I found TLS to have a bit of an annoying smug Establishment attitude—kind of like the Economist, that sort of thing—and I prefer the earnestness of LRB. But that was around twenty years ago; maybe TLS has changed. I also used to subscribe to the NYRB but I got tired of the mediocrity. NYRB has some great stuff but they reminded me too much of academia in their tolerance of mediocrity coming from their regular or “tenured” contributors.

      But . . . I’ve sent articles a few times to LRB and NYRB but they never want to publish anything of mine, so maybe I’m just resentful! The LRB once published a letter I sent them, but that’s all. Never a book review.

      • John Bullock says:

        how do you know that Lowdon’s review got less attention than Lockwood’s?

        For a time, I had Google alert me to new material on the web that mentioned Updike. Lockwood’s essay was mentioned much more often then Lowdon’s in these alerts. A pair of Google searches also makes the point: the search for “‘patricia lockwood’ ‘john updike'” turns up about 50 times as many hits as “‘claire lowdon’ ‘john updike'”.

        I don’t read LRB or TLS on a regular basis, so I’m reluctant to speak to differences between them. I do have an objection, though, to both LRB and NYRB: the articles and arguments about partisan politics that I’ve read in those publications are too often of low quality. (In 2008, you brought up a disturbing example of this problem in LRB.)

        By the way — I think that Richard Locke is still at Columbia. If you see him, perhaps ask him what he thinks of his review of Updike now that he has fifty years of hindsight.

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