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Toward the End of Time: A Novel [Kindle Edition]

John Updike
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (59 customer reviews)

Print List Price: $16.00
Kindle Price: $9.99
You Save: $6.01 (38%)
Sold by: Random House LLC

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Book Description

Set in the near future of 2020, this disconcerting philosophical fantasy depicts an America devastated by a war with China that has left its populace decimated, its government a shambles, and its natural resources tainted. The hero is Ben Turnbull, a sixty-six-year-old retired investment counselor, who, like Thoreau, sticks close to home and traces the course of one Massachusetts year in his journal. Something of a science buff, he finds that his disrupted personal history has been warped by the disjunctions and vagaries of the “many-worlds” hypothesis derived from the indeterminacy of quantum theory. His identity branches into variants extending back through the past and forward into the evolution of the universe, as both it and his own mortal, nature-haunted existence move toward the end of time.


Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Updike again, understandably autumnal in his 18th novel and 48th book. It's 2020, and war with China has left the United States in a shambles. As cheerfully retired investment counselor Ben Turnbull gets caught up in the "many-universes" theory resulting from the indeterminacy of quantum mechanics, he finds his identity racing back and forth in time.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Booklist

This is Updike's millennium novel. Who better than he--vastly intelligent observer of morals and mores over the past half-century--to wrap up fin de siecle life in one, big, magnificent novel that both concludes and foresees? But what a disappointment! It's set in the future--2020, to be exact. What is the point of setting the story ahead in time while at the same time giving next to no feel that things are different? A war is supposed to have happened between the U.S. and China, but it seems to have had as little effect on daily life as some small skirmish in Somalia. Ben Turnbull narrates a year in his life; he's in his late sixties, a semiretired investor, a lover of science. He and his wife have arguments over a deer who is nibbling her lawn and garden away; Ben has thoughts about science, which he yammers on and on about to the absolute distraction of the follower of this curious narrative. Ben thinks he has shot his wife instead of the deer, and the deer turns into a young woman, with whom he has an affair, but, clank, reality sets in again, and his wife is back. Huh? Even Updike's gorgeous style cannot jump-start this plot; it's gone lame at the starting gate. Still, his legion of fans will want to decide for themselves. Brad Hooper

Product Details

  • File Size: 1837 KB
  • Print Length: 349 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0449000419
  • Publisher: Random House (September 23, 2009)
  • Sold by: Random House LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B002PYFVUI
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Not Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #699,260 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Sometimes a Joy, Sometimes a Chore September 3, 2006
Format:Paperback
John Updike's Toward the End Of Time proved a bit of an enigma to me. At times I thoroughly enjoyed it and at other times I seriously thought about putting the book down, never to open its contents again.

In the novel our protagonist goes by the name of Ben Turnbull, a retired finance expert who now haunts his home in the country as his wife obsesses with the garden, her social circles, and a gift shop she helps run. The year is 2020, and a war with the Chinese has all but obliterated the United States as we currently know it. However, New England has been little affected and so life is fairly normal.

Perhaps that is Updike's most astonishing talent. Amongst all the mundane aspects of his tale, he'll sometimes throw in facts about the war, or briefly mention a new life form that has emerged as a result of the war, or slip into metaphysical dissertations about all aspects of science that will virtually boggle your mind. Along with that, at times Ben, our narrator, will slip into . . . something . . . where he is someone totally different living in ancient Egypt or soon after the death of Christ. Perhaps just as flummoxing is the disappearance and reemergence of major characters with little to no explanation.

Amidst all this, however, exist the story of a man aging, a man who feels useless to his wife and to himself more and more with each passing day. He is a man still hot with passion for life and for love, but he finds fulfillment for these passions in the most unusual and sometimes immoral of places.

While this novel presented itself as a constant frustration, one cannot ignore the sheer talent Updike has at imagery.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A blend of the provocative and lyrical. January 14, 1998
Format:Hardcover
Toward The End of Time made the New York Times's "Notable Books" list for '97, but never really got the attention it deserves. Although set in the near future (the year 2020 should be a tip-off that Updike is having some fun with this device) the book is focused very much on the here-and-now as experienced by Ben Turnbull, an aging investment adviser whose wife may be trying to kill him, or may herself be dead; who may or may not be having an interesting and oddly touching affair with a local prostitute; and who seems to be advising a group of local hoodlums on how best to shake down the neighbors. What Ben is certainly doing is confronting his own mortality: from the opening lines, in which winter comes far too early to the north shore of Massachusetts, to the closing moments, in which, one year later, a sudden burst of warm weather stirs a midwinter flurry of insect life, Ben immerses himself in a sensual awareness of the physical world even as his thoughts seem to travel back through time, lighting on the defining moments of an unusual cast of characters. Whether a reader is jarred by these sudden digressions to ancient Egypt, Nazi Germany, and elsewhere will depend in large part on whether he or she enters into the spirit of the novel, which is ultimately impressionistic, despite its surfeit of detail. In my view Updike works wonders--who else will see the world for us this clearly and render it into such perfect prose? Read more ›
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Not among his best February 27, 2007
By Bomojaz
Format:Hardcover
Set in the near future (c.2020) in a semi-rural area not too far from Boston in the aftermath of a nuclear war with China, this basically unsatisfying novel is the ruminations of main character Ben Turnbull as he contemplates the world around him - one in which law has just about ceased to exist and extortion has taken its place. His domineering wife has gone away on a trip - or perhaps he's killed her - it's hard to say. Turnbull meanwhile appears barricaded in his house dealing with a gang of extortionists who live in the woods on his property. Not a whole lot happens in the book, though central to the story is Updike's criticisms of a world ruled by technology and a lack of any kind of moral stamina. Turnbull seems trapped between the barren, mechanistic world outside his window and his nostalgic recollections of the pop culture he believes has defined him as a person. It's a sad book, saturated with a feeling of hopelessness and life not worth living. I consider myself a great admirer of the works of John Updike (I believe that 50 years from now his books, especially the Rabbit series, might be the only fiction from our time period still being read), but I find this novel among the least satisfying of his books.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Two stars for technical mastery, one for the cover November 20, 1998
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
Please. This novel is a fragmented, floral fulmination on prostate troubles. Someone said that Updike's style is lapidary and I agree: his sentences are precise and elegant but, taken altogether, the parts still outshine the sum. The Sci fi setting is silly and irrelevant, the historical digressions are good but what the heck are they supposed to prove? Are they just Turnbull's flights of fancy? Is this diary convincing? Could a financial investor write such elegant prose? If so, wouldn't he realize that he'd missed his callling? I know I'm being cynical, but this is a frustrating novel. I wanted to like the story but simply couldn't. I'd love to see Updike develop the story about the author of Mark's Gospel. That would be a great read. He had the voice down pat. By the way, the metallobugs (or whatever) was a bit over the top, although, come to think of it, so was the whole premise that a guy could worry about golf and flora and getting laid in a post nuclear world. Good Gad!!
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars A quasi-distopian dark comedy
Updike paints a darkly comic portrait of the America that remains after a nuclear altercation. His focus is on the life of a sixty-odd year old upper middle class man who is lucky... Read more
Published 7 months ago by Ulfilas
3.0 out of 5 stars WELL, UPDIKE'S GREAT, BUT THIS IS ABIT LESS THAN HIS BEST
A favorite writer of mine was David Foster Wallace. He wrote a review of this and ridiculed it. Updike's a favorite of mine. He written much better novels. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Roy Clark
4.0 out of 5 stars The flawed mind & body of an imperfect man
Some titans of the English language line my shelves, among them: Gene Wolfe, J. G. Ballard, Dan Simmons, Iain Banks and Neal Stephenson. Read more
Published 16 months ago by 2theD
4.0 out of 5 stars Updike a trip
good read but a body might want to keep a dictionary handy. Not too many admirable characters mostly just getting by and confronted with a new world.
Published on March 29, 2012 by F. Bradley
5.0 out of 5 stars David Foster Wallace didn't "get" it; will you?
David Foster Wallace, the young author who recently committed suicide, didn't like or "get" this novel; he said the prose was unbelievably turgid... Read more
Published on November 23, 2011 by david lincoln brooks
3.0 out of 5 stars An elegantly-written grab bag mish-mash of ideas, concerns and stories
The recipe for Updike's "Toward the End of Time" could be appropriated as thus: one tablespoon of Philip Roth (I'm thinking of his "Portnoy's Complaint"), one tablespoon of Norman... Read more
Published on November 7, 2010 by M. Robinson
4.0 out of 5 stars Weird, Intriguing and Ultimately Interesting
As the title implies, this book is about nearing the end of time--in two realms. First the end of a man, the protagonist, Ben Turnbull's life, and the end of life in this country... Read more
Published on September 21, 2008 by Big D
4.0 out of 5 stars A haunting & beautiful novel
This novel deals with aging and our own sense of mortality. The world Updike describes, as well as his main character, are both groaning under the strain of age and decay. Read more
Published on April 13, 2008 by J. W. Hedden
2.0 out of 5 stars a vastly disappointing read
wow... just finished it, and can i just say that this is one of those books i have finished out of spite alone, so i can say the book didn't get the better of me. Read more
Published on September 3, 2007 by derf
3.0 out of 5 stars Flora and Fauna can make a man yawn-a
While the book is a brilliant work of sexagenarian introspection and obliquely described dystopian SF and the prose is lyrical, the dense descriptions of flowers, trees, birds,... Read more
Published on September 1, 2007 by Presley Acuna
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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.

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