And Now, Something Completely Different…

Now that John Updike has died, you can expect the stream of praise to come in as quickly as papers could be printed. But instead of linking to those obits, I’d like to refer to this review that the late, great David Foster Wallace wrote in the New York Observer:

“Maybe the only thing the reader ends up appreciating about Ben Turnbull
is that he’s such a broad caricature of an Updike protagonist that he
helps us figure out what’s been so unpleasant and frustrating about this
gifted author’s recent characters. It’s not that Turnbull is stupid — he
can quote Kierkegaard and Pascal on angst and allude to the deaths of
Schubert and Mozart and distinguish between a sinistrorse and a
dextrorse Polygonum vine, etc. It’s that he persists in the bizarre
adolescent idea that getting to have sex with whomever one wants
whenever one wants is a cure for ontological despair. And so, it
appears, does Mr. Updike — he makes it plain that he views the narrator’s
impotence as catastrophic, as the ultimate symbol of death itself, and
he clearly wants us to mourn it as much as Turnbull does. I’m not
especially offended by this attitude; I mostly just don’t get it. Erect
or flaccid, Ben Turnbull’s unhappiness is obvious right from the book’s
first page. But it never once occurs to him that the reason he’s so
unhappy is that he’s an asshole. “

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