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Tessa Hadley on John Updike

Lots to think about here. To start with, this is the first New Yorker fiction podcast I’ve heard where they actually criticize the author instead of just celebrating him and saying how perfect the story is. This time, they went right at it, with the interviewer, Deborah Treisman, passing along some criticisms of Updike and then Hadley discussing that. It was great.

Hadley also said something that reminded me of a post that I just wrote regarding the analogy between drawing and statistical modeling. Unfortunately now that I’m typing this, I don’t remember what it was that Hadley said! And the interview does not seem to have a transcript.


  1. jim says:

    Updike is dead. No need to promote the guy anymore.

  2. Jay Livingston says:

    It sounds as though Treisman had been awakened by #metoo; Hadley, not so much. They don’t exactly come close to David Foster Wallace’s take on Updike — “a penis with a thesauras.”

    I remember hearing Updike’s “Unstuck” (maybe on this podcast, maybe Selected Shorts) about a man and woman trying to get drive their car out of the snow. The story is a great big double entendre — getting the car up and running written about as though it were sex. It seemed to me at the time (I haven’t reread it) like something written by a smirking 13-year old boy . . .with a thesaurus.

    • Andrew says:


      Regarding the me-too issue, I remember hearing a New Yorker fiction podcast from years ago, it was a story by Isaac Bashevis Singer featuring a rabbi, I think it was, who ran out on his young wife and she tracked him down and it turned out he was gay and living in some other town with a cantor. Anyway, one thing that I remember in the story and then the discussion was that the cantor would seduce the young rabbinical students, and in the context of the story it was seen as a kind of charming thing. Treisman seemed amused by it too. The interview was, I dunno, 12 years ago, but I was listening to it pretty recently, and it struck me that nowadays it would be harder to treat that with gentle amusement.

  3. John Bullock says:

    David Foster Wallace’s take on Updike — “a penis with a thesauras.”

    That wasn’t Wallace’s take. You can read his actual review for yourself. It’s very critical of a particular book, but in the review, Wallace also allows that he is “one of very few actual sub-40 Updike fans.”

    The line that you quoted is in the review, but Wallace attributes the line to someone else, whom he doesn’t name.

  4. Adede says:

    You want to see some criticism of Updike? Check this out:

    “I was hired​ as an assassin. 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.”

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