Saturday, July 05, 2014

A Month of Short Stories and Their Authors
July 5th: John Updike

now finished (hurrah! finally!): Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt by H.W. Brands
now reading: a book of poetry, a book of short stories, a novel in French, a novel in English, the non-fiction audio book I'm listening to on my mp3 player on walks and such, and a biography. the usual. 

Happy Independence Day, U.S.A.! I took the holiday off from my July short-story-per-day project. Sorry! I actually took the day off from computer/internet/posting entirely, so it's nothing personal, literature.

Today's Story: "Pygmalion"
Author: John Updike

My Rating: C+ or B-

Am I some kind of John Updike contrarian? Actually at first I was thinking about rating this a B but the more I thought about it the more annoyed I got. There's no there there, as a certain other writer would say. It's really quite a small fragment of an idea and I wouldn't even say it's very fleshed out. I wish it had been a bit longer. This is just a blip. I could have seen our boy Updike doing a bit more with the idea of what men want from women they are married to and/or don't realize they don't want, but then again, there are those who would say Updike is too steeped in his own sexist world view to really examine such issues... who knows.

What I do know is that basically nothing happens in this shorter-than-short story. Short-short stories weird me out a little. I know some people don't care for short stories, preferring novels that fully develop/realize characters and action. I don't feel that way, but I think I do about short-shorts, as compared to normal short stories. This is more like just a thought. A fragment. It's shorter than some blog entries.

And, it doesn't really make sense. Why does Gwen suddenly start imitating people, too? What's the point of this particular little snippet of a marriage? What's the point of this story?

Now, let's think about Updike. First of all, I realize now that I have read a short story of his before, "A &P." Read it in high school, and if you had asked me a few years ago, I would have absolutely remembered the story, but had no clue who the author was. But yup, apparently that's by John Updike. That was certainly a more fleshed-out piece (in more ways than one). Secondly, I first read an Updike novel as the 'U' author in my A-to-Z Literary Blog Project. I chose The Centaur - which definitely breaks the tradition these last few days of my saying "Hey, I've read [insert most famous work here] by this author." I liked his writing enough to select him as one of the privileged thirteen in my A-to-Z Top Half Authors, and the second novel I read was Rabbit, Run.  Even though I didn't advance him to my A-to-Z Blog Project Semi-finals, I know I'm going to end up reading Rabbit Is Rich and Rabbit at Rest because they won the Pulitzer, which means I need to read Rabbit Redux, the second of the four Rabbit novels, before I read those other two, of course. Rabbit, Run annoyed me (hence my calling myself an Updike contrarian) for many of the same reasons that this "short story" "Pygmalion" did. So, so, so male-centered. You can write a male character, with a male point of view, without having a male-centric worldview (as in, to the exclusion of women). Lots of authors do this (Tolstoy, etc.)  Updike not so much. He's a really, really good writer. He knows his way around a sentence, boy, does he ever! And I completely get what he's doing with Rabbit, and with the fact that Updike wanted to offer some kind of counter to Kerouac and the other Beats' free-spirit drop-out-of-society run-away-from-responsibility mentality, but does it have to come across as so alienating to all of womankind?

What do you think about Updike?  Is he challenging? Is he profound? brilliant? misogynistic? Is his writing good, boring, fascinating, or none of the above?

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