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John Updike


John Hoyer Updike
(March 18, 1932 – January 27, 2009) was an American novelist, poet, short story writer, art critic, and literary critic.

Updike’s most famous work is his “Rabbit” series (the novels Rabbit, Run; Rabbit Redux; Rabbit Is Rich; Rabbit at Rest; and the novella Rabbit Remembered), which chronicles the life of the middle-class everyman Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom over the course of several decades, from young adulthood to death. Both Rabbit Is Rich (1982) and Rabbit at Rest (1990) were recognized with the Pulitzer Prize. Updike is one of only three authors to win the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction more than once (the others were Booth Tarkington and William Faulkner). He published more than twenty novels and more than a dozen short story collections, as well as poetry, art criticism, literary criticism and children’s books. Hundreds of his stories, reviews, and poems appeared in The New Yorker starting in 1954. He also wrote regularly for The New York Review of Books.

Describing his subject as “the American small town, Protestant middle class,” Updike was well recognized for his careful craftsmanship, his unique prose style, and his prolificacy. He wrote on average a book a year. Updike populated his fiction with characters who “frequently experience personal turmoil and must respond to crises relating to religion, family obligations, and marital infidelity.” His fiction is distinguished by its attention to the concerns, passions, and suffering of average Americans; its emphasis on Christian theology; and its preoccupation with sexuality and sensual detail. His work has attracted a significant amount of critical attention and praise, and he is widely considered to be one of the great American writers of his time. Updike’s highly distinctive prose style features a rich, unusual, sometimes arcane vocabulary as conveyed through the eyes of “a wry, intelligent authorial voice” that extravagantly describes the physical world, while remaining squarely in the realist tradition. He described his style as an attempt “to give the mundane its beautiful due.” (From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.)

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I just ran across this poem again in the book I’m reading. I dissolved in a puddle of tears when I read it for the first time in Garrison Keillor’s book Good Poems. I was reading in the car and Drollery had to pull over and stop. He thought something was wrong with me. I’m an animal lover and have had my heart broken my fair share of times from putting pets to sleep. I never get used to it. This poem left me totally undone. It spoke to me on a deep level about how some of us strive to the end of our days to be acceptable to those around us. (reposted from 2/21/15)

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Dog’s Death

She must have been kicked unseen or brushed by a car.
Too young to know much, she was beginning to learn
To use the newspapers spread on the kitchen floor
And to win, wetting there, the words, “Good dog! Good dog!”

We thought her shy malaise was a shot reaction.
The autopsy disclosed a rupture in her liver.
As we teased her with play, blood was filling her skin
And her heart was learning to lie down forever.

Monday morning, as the children were noisily fed
And sent to school, she crawled beneath the youngest’s bed.
We found her twisted and limp but still alive.
In the car to the vet’s, on my lap, she tried

To bite my hand and died. I stroked her warm fur
And my wife called in a voice imperious with tears.
Though surrounded by love that would have upheld her,
Nevertheless she sank and, stiffening, disappeared.

Back home, we found that in the night her frame,
Drawing near to dissolution, had endured the shame
Of diarrhea and had dragged across the floor
To a newspaper carelessly left there. Good dog.

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Picture Credit: www.updikereview.com

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