[Marxism] Ellis Sharp nails John Updike
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Sun Aug 6 08:44:09 MDT 2006
Friday, August 04, 2006
John Updike and Terrorism
Tylenol has a square face the colour of walnut furniture stain while its
still sitting up wet on the wood.
Thats a sentence which immediately arouses animosity in me. Do we need to
know the shape of a characters face? If so, why? If so, is square good
enough? (Somewhere I have a copy of a novel in which the narrator
laconically observes of someone he had a head-shaped head. When I find it
Ill quote it more precisely.)
Who in hell knows what the colour of walnut furniture stain while its
still sitting up wet on the wood looks like? It strikes me as being a
fussy, silly, desperate-to-be-original metaphor which is unlikely to mean
much to anyone who isnt either in the furniture construction trade or a
demented elderly householder obsessed with keeping up appearances. Nor does
the author keep up with his own use of language: two paragraphs later we
get what is surely a careless and unfortunate cliché: Tylenols face
darkens. Or is that the walnut stain drying?
But the most serious objection is that this figurative language does not
seem in any way organic to the narrative. Jorylene, Tylenol, Ahmad what
would any of them know about furniture stain? The metaphor surely springs
from the authors own life and has been artificially applied to a narrative
where it doesnt belong.
The sentence is from John Updikes new novel Terrorist. In todays
Independent Arts & Books Review Matt Thorne gives a rave review of this
widely panned new novel. He hails Terrorist as a successful thriller, now,
in Thornes opinion, the most socially responsible genre, and says Updike
captures the temperature of the times. Thorne thinks its not only one of
the best books Updike has ever written but that, among other titles, its
even better than Saturday. Praise indeed.
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