Rev. of Adam Begley’s Updike. [New York]: HarperCollins, .
John Updike famously wrote his memoir Self-Consciousness to discourage potential biographers while he lived. Now, five years after Updike’s death, Adam Begley, whose father was Updike’s Harvard classmate, has given us a comprehensive, perceptive, handsomely written critical biography. Updike owes its success to Begley’s studious use of the Houghton Library’s trove of Updike material, his tireless leg-work in interviewing relatives, friends, lovers, and writers, and his judicious evaluation of Updike’s oeuvre. Begley authoritatively dates Updike’s canon and precisely charts his timeline. For instance, though Marry Me was published in 1976, Begley shows it was written in 1964, and while Updike divorced in 1976, Begley reveals that he nearly left his family in 1962.
Begley’s exactitude is formidable: Shillington’s parking meters first appeared in 1940; Updike made $1,003 from The New Yorker in 1954; Joyce Harrington was the married woman for whom he nearly divorced in 1962; Madeline and Medea were the names of Miranda Updike’s two sheep; and Rosette was the Updikes’ Antibes babysitter. But does the reader need to know that an Updike Ipswich home had been owned in the thirties by George Brewer Jr. “who co-wrote Dark Victory,” later a Bette Davis film? Well, after such scholarly excavation, Begley can be forgiven his passion for detail.
So Begley is factually trustworthy, and so are his informed readings of Updike’s work—and his observations of Updike the man, as his “Introduction” discloses. In 1993 he witnessed Updike’s encounter with a meddlesome woman, and Begley cleverly perceived Updike’s spectrum of responses as he reacted. Right away we know we are in the hands of writer with sharp eyes and a shrewd mind. Updike will grab casual readers and be indispensable to specialists. Read the rest of this entry »