Writing for Literary Hub, Thomas E. Ricks shared what it was like “Growing Up Inside a John Updike Novel” in the “Shadows at the Edge of Updike’s Work.”
Ricks said his first word—”boat”—was spoken “about the time that John Updike was moving into a small house a few miles to the north of Essex.” But, “It was only recently, when reading Adam Begley’s biography of Updike, that I realized how much Updike and I breathed the same disconcerted air in those years. . . . Updike’s beaches were my beaches—Crane and Wingaersheek, both located between Gloucester’s rocks and Ipswich’s marshes. As newlyweds, Updike and his first wife had worked at the YMCA Family Camp on Lake Winnipesaukee, New Hampshire, while my family around that time spent a week of the summer at Squam Lake, the next body of water to the west.”
“When old and wealthy, Updike spent some of his royalty payments golfing at the venerable Myopia Hunt Club, where my grandparents sometimes took me to dinner when I was a child,” Ricks writes. And getting even more into the territory of family myth he says, “My mother told me that once at a cocktail party, Updike poured a drink down the front of her dress. She was not sure if it had been on purpose.”
The writer considers how “At one point in Couples, one half of an adulterous couple contemplating having sex on a pile of dirty clothes in a basement laundry room in a house on the outskirts of Ipswich looks up at the cellar window to check if a ‘child’s watching shadow cleft it.’ I would have been seven years and eight years old in the year in which the novel is set, from early 1963 to early 1964. That might have been my shadow there,” he muses.
Read the full essay.