His title, this time, echoes Queen Gertrude's editorial advice to Polonius: "More matter, with less art." Only reluctantly does Updike assent to our age's appetite for facts, facts, and more facts, with fiction relegated to a kind of imaginative finger bowl:
Human curiosity, the abettor and stimulant of the fiction surge between Robinson Crusoe's adventures and Constance Chatterley's, has become ever more literal-minded and impatient with the proxies of the imagination. Present taste runs to the down-home divulgences of the talk show--psychotherapeutic confession turned into public circus--and to investigative journalism that, like so many heat-seeking missiles, seeks out the intimate truths, the very genitals, of Presidents and princesses.Strong stuff, that last line, especially from the man whom Nicholson Baker called "the first novelist to take the penile sensorium under the wing of elaborate metaphoric prose."
But if Updike's critical investigations tend to stay above the belt, they remain as wide-ranging and elegant as ever. In More Matter, he takes on Herman Melville and Mickey Mouse, Abraham Lincoln and the male body--not to mention the cream of modern cosmology. His formulations on almost any subject seem ripe for the commonplace book. Here he is on sexual appetite: "Lust, which begins in a glance of the eye, is a searching, and its consummation, step by step, a knowing." On the short story: "The inner spaces that a good short story lets us enter are the old apartments of religion." On the austerity of biblical narrative: "The original Gospels evince a flinty terseness, a refusal, or inability, to provide the close focus and cinematic highlighting that the modern mind expects." And finally, on the raw intimacies of John Cheever's published journals:
His confessions posthumously administer a Christian lesson in the deep gulf between outward appearance and inward condition; they present, with an almost unbearable fullness, a post-Adamic man, an unreconciled bundle of cravings and complaints, whose consolations--the glory of the sky, the company of his young sons--have the ring of hollow cheer in the vastness of his dissatisfaction. Comparatively, the journals of Kierkegaard and Emerson are complacent and academic.These sentences neatly unite the author's literary and theological concerns--although the latter topic takes something of a back seat in More Matter--and remind us of the compound pleasures of his prose. In his preface, Updike refers to the book as "my fifth such collection and--dare we hope?--my last." We very much hope not. --James Marcus --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
everything john updike writes is written beautifully, and nearly everything he writes is worth reading, if for no other reason than making the acquaintance of a beautiful prose... Read morePublished on October 27, 2007 by Case Quarter
The amazing intelligence, industry, skill, art, of Updike are at work in this fifth collection of essays. Read morePublished on November 14, 2004 by Shalom Freedman
One learns here that Helen Keller was not a spontaneous writer and that the author, John Updike, felt as a younger person that it was almost unethical for Sinclair Lewis to mock... Read morePublished on September 13, 2004 by Mary E. Sibley
Updike seems to have an inflated opinion of his own place in American Letters. He is not, and will never be, an essential figure in the pantheon of American writers - as, for... Read morePublished on November 29, 1999 by Mike Finn
To begin with, we should all write as well as Mr. Updike. He is a fine exemplar of the New Yorker tradition in American letters. Read morePublished on November 22, 1999 by Baruch Fenstermacher