Updike in the Afterlife

January 29, 2009 § 4 Comments

John Updike

John Updike

Philip and I were talking about John Updike’s obit in the Times by Christopher Lehmann-Haupt. Philip said,  “Isn’t Christopher Lehmann-Haupt dead? I thought he was dead.” I suggested maybe it was written years ago—and we went on like that, Philip grumbling while I said why shouldn’t the dead criticize the dead? (In fact, Lehmann-Haupt is not dead. He lives in Riverdale.)

I know the Times writes its obits—of the well-known elderly— in advance because my friend Annie was friends with philanthropist Steward Mott, and a year or two before his death he had to come to New York to be interviewed for his. There was a flurry of emails back and forth with the newspaper staff about how much vodka he needed to get through the conversation.

I prefer the idea of the dead interviewing their own. Too much congress between the afterlife and our earthly existence would ruin the mystery, the fear, the je ne sais quoi of human hope springing eternal, but perhaps if one email could get through just to say, “It’s pleasure to have Updike with us. His descriptive powers are stimulating all our sexual memories—which is painful for those who don’t have sexual memories, but what can you do? He’s brought his characters. Rabbit is relieved to be really dead at last and the Eastwick witches are enjoying our multitude of devils. John tells us you’ve really been fucking things up in the world. Not that we care especially, but… we don’t want you arriving en masse. Somebody has to dust the purgatorial chambers. PS—be kinder to your writers. Without books, there wouldn’t even be an afterlife, and believe me, you wouldn’t like it. Those of us from the really old days can attest to how stultifyingly boring it was.”

My favorite book of Updike’s is “Roger’s Version.” My favorite Kingsley Amis is “The Old Devils.” Muriel Spark: “Memento Mori.” A little spite goes a long way to give fiction crackle.

Kingsley Amis, Muriel SparkKingsley Amis and Muriel Spark

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