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Friday, January 29, 2010


A frantic journey to the library turned up two treasures: an Updike book about a doubting, sex-crazed minister and Einstein's theory of relativity. In the one, I have a familiar voice I've grown to love, and a descriptive power I've not encountered in anyone but Nabokov. In the latter, I'll probably understand a fraction, and be able to apply none of it, save for some of the most esoterically banal conversation-stoppers I can muster for future cocktail parties.

I do love Updike though. Part of the draw to him is in the spiritual depth of his novels. The experience of an Updike novel is uniquely visceral and the details are powerfully vivid and dynamic. But there's always more. Many have remarked that no one does sex like Updike. True. No one does doubt like Updike either. He has a way of charting the motions of the soul within the context of a terrifyingly mundane and secular world. The lusts seem to act as extensions of the spirit in an Updike novel. We are always reaching for that ultimate point of contact only to find it shattered by a paradoxical sense of isolation. Adultery is the theme running rampant throughout all of Updike's prose. It serves as a metaphor for our own wanderings away from our true source of light.

Updike used to read from Karl Barth's commentary on Romans every night before he went to bed. He never tired of citing Kierkegaard and Barth as the vital sources of inspiration for his work, the set of coordinates by which he operated. His books are profoundly existential and profoundly theological. His characters are always trying to stay in motion, to stave away inertia. They are always trying to crowd away their emptiness with voluptuous bodies. Ironically, this ends up compounding the problem.

I am grateful to return to this most Christian of contemporary writers.

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