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Memories of the Ford Administration: A Novel Paperback – August 27, 1996

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Irony, whimsy, supple prose, pungent imagery, penetrating social observation and a focus on his protagonist's libido are the familiar elements Updike brings to his 39th book (after Rabbit at Rest and Odd Jobs). But there is more: a biography/historical novel interpolated into the main story makes this an uneven, hybrid work. Ostensibly preparing a paper on the Ford administration, narrator Alfred Clayton, a professor at a New Hampshire junior college, finds his impressions of the period inextricable from the events of his own life at the time. Epitomizing the sexual liberation of that pre-AIDS era, he had begun an affair with a colleague's spouse, Genevieve Mueller, whom he dubs the Perfect Wife, in contrast to his own mate--messy, scatty Norma, the Queen of Disorder. His halfhearted attempts to divorce the one and marry the other are as inconclusive and bumbling as was (by implication) President Ford's lackluster half-term. Meanwhile, Alf is writing a biography (never finished) of James Buchanan, whose administration immediately predated the Civil War. Realizing that his recollections of his own experiences in the 1970s are as unreliable as were contemporary accounts of Buchanan's life and times, Alf concludes that it is impossible to arrive at the truth of any event. Updike's attempt to weld his two stories together is not always successful. Alf's sexual exploits are, by design, conveyed with more energy than Buchanan's aborted romance, and the details of Cabinet meetings attending the crisis at Fort Sumter retard the narrative's pace. Yet Updike's skill as a raconteur overcomes his novel's hobbled structure; in the end, his account is social history of a high order. BOMC alternate.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

A simple request from an organization of historians for impressions of the Ford administration elicits these "memories" as reponse. Professor Alfred Clayton remembers what the Ford years meant for him: domestic disruption in the wake of his leaving his wife, the Queen of Disorder, for his idealized mistress, the Perfect Wife; ubiquitous sexual license; and the eventual abandonment of his attempt to write a sympathetic biography of President James Buchanan. But the subject of this virtuoso performance is not so much life during the Ford years as it is human memory and how lives, both our own and those of the historical dead, are remembered. Updike writes with droll wit and sly observation, serving up a meditation on history hidden in an erotic comedy. This should stand in the Updike oeuvre where Pale Fire does in that of Nabokov.
- Charles Michaud, Turner Free Lib., Randolph, Mass.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; 1st Ballantine Books trade pbk. ed edition (August 27, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0449912116
  • ISBN-13: 978-0449912119
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,801,180 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Updike was born in 1932, in Shillington, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Harvard College in 1954, and spent a year in Oxford, England, at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art. From 1955 to 1957 he was a member of the staff of The New Yorker, and since 1957 lived in Massachusetts. He was the father of four children and the author of more than fifty books, including collections of short stories, poems, essays, and criticism. His novels won the Pulitzer Prize (twice), the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Rosenthal Award, and the Howells Medal. A previous collection of essays, Hugging the Shore, received the 1983 National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism. John Updike died on January 27, 2009, at the age of 76.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Robin Friedman HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 29, 2003
Format: Paperback
"Memories of the Ford Administration" (1992) is the fifteenth novel of John Updike, a prolific American writer. It is the third of Updike's novels I have read, spaced widely over the years, with the other two being "Roger's Version", which predated this book, and "In the Beauty of the Lillies", which followed it. I had similar reactions to all three books. Updike deals with important and large themes, such as the possiblity and nature of a belief in God in a skeptical age, the character and promise of American life and history, and, of course, the nature of human sexuality.
There are interesting things in the books by Updike that I have read. But they are all highly uneven with long, dull and wordy sections. Worse,the books have each seemed to me glib in a way that detracts from the importance of their themes. They are more in the nature of literary performances than thoughtful explorations of their subject matters. I have thought about the three Updike books I have read, and was engaged while I was reading them. But I still came away dissatisfied.
"Memories of the Ford Administration" begins when, in 1992, a historical organization called the Northern New England Association of American Historians asks Professor Alfred Clayton (named after Alf Landon, the 1936 Republican Presidential candidate) to provide "requested memories and impressions of he presidential Administration of Gerald R. Ford (1974-1977)." Clayton is a professor at a small women's 2-year college in New Hampshire during the Ford years. By 1992, the college is a four-year institution and has gone co-ed.
In response to the request Clayton produces instead a long, rambling, draft-like monologue which is the text of this novel.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Dai-keag-ity on March 18, 2006
Format: Paperback
The brilliant John Updike delivers yet again. Deceptively packaged as a sort of historical evaluation of the Presidency of Gerald Ford, this book's protagonist actually tricks us all by giving Ford virtually no ink and ultimately encapsulates his feelings for the man by calling him little more than "the perfect President." You see, though he has been assigned the task of authoring a scholarly paper on Ford, the main character here, a writer and educator from New England, combines an autobiographical tale about his own life during the hectic, sex-filled mid-1970's, with his obsessive mission to make public his views on and expertise of the Presidency of James Buchanan. The writer becomes obsessed in an almost Hitchcockian fashion with Ann, the doomed fiancée of the lawyerly young Buchanan, a woman who meets a tragic death that sends the future fifteenth President of the United States into lifelong bachelorhood and---it is speculated-either undispelled virginity, or just possibly a homosexual relationship in the White House with an Alabama Senator. The Buchanan material, while most interesting of all in its early stages, quickly takes second billing to the tale of the writer's personal life during the 1970's, as he separates from his spouse, falls in lust with a local woman he terms "The Perfect Wife" and skirt-chases after the available females on his college campus and in his neighborhood and social circle. Updike does get surprisingly graphic, even erotic, in his descriptions of sex here, and in a few cases he shifts gears masterfully, making the same scene a thing of both Eros and physical comedy. Memories Of The Ford Administration is a dyed-in-the-wool masterpiece that surely gets its time periods, the first half of the nineteenth-century and the 1970's, down pat. It's a joy to read, a book that makes a reader think, and a tale to settle back and take delight in as it unfolds without effort. Without question a five-star book!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Mary E. Sibley VINE VOICE on January 24, 2005
Format: Paperback
The Updike persona is Alfred Clayton, a New Englander, schooled at Middlebury and Dartmouth. He is an historian. As the book opens he and his children are watching Nixon's resignation speech, marking the beginning of the Ford administration. He is babysitting for the children while his wife goes out with another man since the couple is separated.

Alf refers to his wife Norma as the Queen of Disorder. He calls his mistress Genevieve the Perfect Wife. She is married to an English professor, a deconstructionist. The college is named hilariously by Updike Wayward College.

When Alf left his family he took away his little library on James Buchanan, the subject of a book he had been trying to write for a decade. Buchanan's upbringing began in a log cabin in the middle of Pennsylvania. Buchanan's life and administration form a complement to the Ford administration. They are a sort of filigree.

Buchanan and his fiancee separated over a misunderstanding. Shortly afterwards the young woman, Ann Coleman, died. As a distraction from his grief, Buchanan ran for public office.

Genevieve told Alf that he had been lower than the cats in the household hierarchy. Alf describes himself as doing postgraduate work in adultery and child neglect. When Alf spends the night in his old house because his mother is visiting, he nearly has an asthma attack.

The president of Wayward has a high tech west coast style of governance. She decorates herself like a year around Christmas tree with bangles and hoops.

In the run-up to the Civil War Buchanan insisted upon the defense of federal forts. Genevieve's husband is offered a position at Yale and she is inclined to accompany him there. Alf returns to his family as the Ford administration ends and he and his children watch the inaugural ceremonies of Jimmy Carter. Amusingly there is a bibliography on Buchanan works.
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