“There were giants in the earth in those days; and also after that, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bare children to them…” Genesis 6:4
With the death of John Updike yesterday, the greatest American literary giant of the 20th Century has fallen. I don’t remember the first time I read Updike’s deathless prose, but I know that as soon as I did, I instantly realized that I could never be a real writer.
Pick up any Updike book and read any sentence at random. What you will find is the closest thing to literary perfection north of Gabriel García Márquez. Read another and another and soon you will be hooked. This man never wrote a bad sentence.
On my Facebook page I have listed “writing the great American Novel” as one of my hobbies. That is of course a lie. The Great American Novel has already been written and it is the Rabbit Quadrilogy: Rabbit, Run; Rabbit Redux; Rabbit is Rich, Rabbit at Rest, and lets not forget the epilogue, Rabbit Remembered.
Although those were great, I actually preferred some of the lesser works, such as A Month of Sundays, The Coup, Memories of the Ford Administration and the hilarious Bech stories. Despite the horrible movie that shares its title, The Witches of Eastwyck is actually a good book, which is why I recently bought and read the sequel, which it now appears will be Updike’s final novel, The Widows of Eastwyck.
Perhaps the master did slip a peg or two at the end, but those perfect sentences were still there, polished like gems. To have someone of that much talent walking the earth seems impossible to grasp. It is only by reference to the quote above from the Book of Genesis that we can begin to understand.
It seems that the Giants of this earth are not mere mortals. Like Jesus, they were born with heavenly fathers of earthly mothers. There is no earthly explanation for so much talent to be possessed by one person.
John has gone back to dwell in the land of his Fathers. We will not soon see his like again.