Literary Hub today reminded readers of the late novelist David Foster Wallace‘s famous attack on John Updike and “the Great Male Narcissists” in his 1997 review of Toward the End of Time, published originally in the Observer. In fact, they posted the entire review, in case you missed it.
In his review, Wallace begins, “Mailer, Updike, Roth—the Great Male Narcissists who’ve dominated postwar realist fiction are now in their senescence, and it must seem to them no coincidence that the prospect of their own deaths appears backlit by the approaching millennium and on-line predictions of the death of the novel as we know it. When a solipsist dies, after all, everything goes with him. And no U.S. novelist has mapped the solipsist’s terrain better than John Updike, whose rise in the 60’s and 70’s established him as both chronicler and voice of probably the single most self-absorbed generation since Louis XIV.”
Toward the End of Time Wallace calls “the worst” of the 25 Updike books he’d read to date, “a novel so mind-bendingly clunky and self-indulgent that it’s hard to believe the author let it be published in this kind of shape.”
In the same review he talks about literary readers he knows and admits they are all under 40, and “none of them are big admirers of the postwar G.M.N.’s. But it’s Mr. Updike in particular they seem to hate. And not merely his books, for some reason—mention the poor man himself and you have to jump back: ‘Just a penis with a thesaurus.'”
Sounds like penis (with a thesaurus) envy. Read the full review.