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Seek My Face Hardcover – November 12, 2002

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 276 pages
  • Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf; 1st edition (November 12, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0375414908
  • ISBN-13: 978-0375414909
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,921,089 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

A meditation on art, aging, and memory, John Updike's Seek My Face is the fictional equivalent of a PBS documentary on postwar American art. Seventy-nine-year-old Hope Chafetz, a painter of merit but, most importantly, wife to two major American artists, allows a young journalist named Kathryn to interview her for an online magazine. Having expected perhaps a two-hour talk over coffee, Hope is dismayed to find that her guest has brought sheaves of questions, a tape recorder, and the kind of scrupulous attention to detail--even sexual detail--that Hope would rather avoid. She gives an entire day to Kathryn, who, like memory itself, seems oblivious to Hope's need to eat, rest, or breathe fresh air.

Seek My Face draws on the story of Lee Miller and Jackson Pollock, the model for Hope's first husband. These are the best parts of a slow, sumptuous, and intricately detailed novel that lacks any significant action except in retrospect. Hope's second husband is depicted as an amalgam of Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, and Wayne Thiebaud--a useful survey of the period, but not compelling characterization. One can sense the author folding in important art-historical points and details toward the end, like last-minute ingredients in a cake that may be too heavy to rise. Readers who stay with Hope and Kathryn through the day, however, will be rewarded with a gorgeous, resonant, and almost antimodern ending. --Regina Marler

From Publishers Weekly

Couched in the form of a day-long conversation between 79-year-old painter Hope Chafetz, living in seclusion in Vermont, and a chic young interviewer from New York, Updike's 20th novel is an ambitious attempt to capture the moment when America "for the first time ever... led world art." As a fictional survey of the birth of abstract expressionism, pop art and other contemporary genres, the narrative offers a somewhat slick overview of the roiling currents of genius and calculation, artistic vision and personal ambition that characterized the art scene in the postwar years. Updike's ability to get inside an artist's psyche is considerable, as Hope's monologue convincingly demonstrates. Because he tries to distill and convey an era of art history, however, there is a static and didactic quality to the narrative; much of it sounds like art-crit disguised as exposition. As a reader can infer from an author's note in which Updike acknowledges his debt to the Naifeh and Smith biography of Jackson Pollock, Hope's life bears a strong resemblance to that of Pollock's wife, Lee Krasner. Hope's memories recapitulate the dilemma of an artist whose personal expression is thwarted by marriage and the omnipresence of alcohol and drugs, and since this is Updike country, Hope is more than candid about her sex life with Zack (Pollock); her second husband, Guy Holloway (loosely modeled on Warhol); and her third, art critic Jerry Chafetz. Updike's descriptions of landscapes and interiors are painterly in themselves, closely observed and sensuous. On the whole, the novel is a study of the artist as archetype, "a man who in the end loves nothing but his art." On that level it succeeds, but readers who long for plot and action may be disappointed.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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

3.7 out of 5 stars
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`Rambling' because the novel seems to have no focal point, no present tense.
Matthew Krichman
Ive never felt compelled to give a bad review before, but this one really left me wishing I had back the time I spent reading it.
Amy L. Karasz
If that wasn't achievement enough, Updike has written a work about the authentic experience of making art.
Christopher H

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on November 17, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Updike is a familiar room. Even though the thoughts, the words, even the intellectualism, remain the same, they don't get boring. They're comfortable.
This 20th novel is less a plot driving story and more a ramble through 20th century art, both fictional and real. The observations on art are, as far as I know (not being an art scholar), insightful, and Updike does a good job weaving the "artistic" in with the "mundane" of the pricipal narrator's existence.
Unfortunately Updike does not write well from a woman's perspective. There are cracks in the way the characters think and interact that reveal a male writer. The main character, an artist in her late 70s, rambles on about how quaint things were in the old days and then suddenly seems completely comfortable with a modern sexual vocabulary (would we expect anything less from Updike?); this grates because there is little indication, up to that point, that the character is anything but a vehicle for nostalgia.
That being said, Updike remains an insightful observer of contemporary life, and, just when you think he's used one modern cliche too many, he comes out with a simple observation that also becomes thought provoking: "What isn't Zen in feeling, looked at blankly?"
Updike has aged right along with the characters in his books, and this book, like "Toward the End of Time" and several of his most recent short stories, show someone who, while not entirely comfortable with growing old, is starting to come to terms with it.
Anyone who is a fan of Updike's work should appreciate this book -- those not familiar with Updike's work would be wise to start elsewhere. Fans of Jackson Pollock might also want to take a look at it to see how he has incorporated the Naifeh biography of Pollock into his narrative.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Craig Clarke VINE VOICE on June 9, 2005
Format: Paperback
One problem I have with John Updike's novels is that I can't tell right away if I'm going to enjoy it. His phenomenal way with words sometimes hides the fact that he doesn't seem to always know where he's going with a story. I can be enjoying the language and not until the end do I realize that I didn't care a whit about the characters.

I thought Seek My Face was going to be one of those novels. From the beginning, Updike eschews plot in favor of description, which, if I'm not in the mindset for concentration, often enables my mind to wander until I realize as I'm turning the page that I have no idea what I just "read."

The story takes place in one day during an interview between a journalist named Kathryn and painter (and, more importantly to this book, painter's wife) Hope Chafetz. Kathryn is ostensibly writing an article on Hope's work, but the talk begins to steer to Hope's first husband, Zack McCoy (an unapologetically fictionalized Jackson Pollack, according to the acknowledgments page) and their relationship.

This is Updike's twentieth novel in a career of fifty books, and in that time an author becomes confident in his style. Enough so, apparently, to feel comfortable jettisoning what most people would consider to be the rules. As a part-time copy editor, there were entire passages that I would have cut out and Updike feels no compunctions about stopping a piece of dialogue mid-sentence to launch into a paragraph-long reminiscence. This is particularly upsetting at the beginning of Seek My Face, when a reader just getting into a new novel needs to be coddled a bit, led in gently to the narrative, held by the hand, so to speak. Updike, however, feels no such duty.

This is not to say that the book is not a great read.
Read more ›
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Shalom Freedman HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on April 9, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Updike is a writer of vast intelligence and insight. In this work he uses the device of allowing the widow of two -major artists to in retelling her life story present a picture of post-war American art - history. There is much precise description of mind and art. It is possible thus to learn a great deal about the art- world from this work. It is also possible to learn a great deal about certain kinds of lives , about human relationships in these worlds. However the feeling that the work gives me is a somewhat distressing and difficult one. I do not feel any real sympathy for the major character or for those she tells her story about. Perhaps the reason for this is the richness of detail and analysis. But I think it goes deeper than that , and has something to do with Updike's fundamental way of feeling the world. And here I admit I have had this same reaction to other works of his, a tremendous admiration for the skill of the writing, and a reservation about his capacity to create a central character one can feel deep sympathy for.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By E. Karasik on November 29, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Updike writes superbly about art -- not only the experience of seeing art but the business of art and, most interesting to me, the creative process. I was not surprised to read that he had spent a stint as an art student. This is truly a book about art, artists, and the role they play in society. He tackles this difficult topic without resorting to critics' jargon or dry exposition. The character of Hope is rendered in beautiful detail which is all the more astonishing for its insights into the female psyche. While I agree with the other reviewers that the character of Hope's second husband was too much of an amalgam to be credible, that was the only off note in an otherwise prodigious work, and the device did serve to flesh out the historical context. The ending offers an exquisite little vignette which, not wanting to spoil, I will just say was one of the most memorable literary passages I have encountered in decades of reading popular fiction.
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