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2 of 12 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Non-fiction works wholly lacking sex, character, and plot, October 13, 2005
This review is from: Assorted Prose (Hardcover)
This collection of prose works by Pennsylvania's favorite son (and critic) opens with a section of "Parodies", many of which were way over this reviewer's head, for example the pseudo-scholarly "What Is A Rhyme?" which purports to barb T.S. Eliot, and the decidedly un-Kerouacesqe "On the Sidewalk". Another satirizes a Life Magazine article that had had some impact on the public psyche during the 1950's, but is virtually unknown today. At least somewhat more amusing is "Drinking from a Cup Made Cinchy", a satire on books of golf tips, and "The Unread Book Route", which is less a parody than a Bombeck-style household confession.

The "First Person Plural" section samples Updike's columns written for The New Yorker's "Talk of the Town" department, and as such is strong on style and in documenting a certain time and place, but its entertainment value is limited by the absence of plot. Best of these is "Doomsday, Mass." which deals with the simple fact of living under the threat of nuclear holocaust. On a more upbeat note, "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu" describes the author's thoughts on seeing the last game played at Fenway Park by Ted Williams. Maybe Updike is just an ordinary guy after all.

"First Person Singular" features some painfully slow reminiscences on Updike's boyhood that by their very nature lack any real point or direction. Perhaps the best of these is "The Lucid Eye in Silver Town", although once again, it assumes some personal connection to New York City which most readers simply won't share.

To this reviewer, the standout section is the book reviews, but they aren't likely to be of much interest to the general reader. The pieces on Thurber, Salinger, and Aiken are succinct and well-thought out, but what will readers derive from Updike's thoughts on such obscure metaphysical works as Karl Barth's "Anselm: Fides Quaerens Intellectum", Paul Tillich's "Morality and Beyond", or the "Letters of James Agee to Father Flye"? These pieces seem included to establish the author's credentials as a serious intellectual, rather than because anyone was likely to want to read them.

Perhaps it was only a young man's vanity that convinced the author this book was worth publishing at all. But despite the Updike's obvious gift with prose, there's very little worthwhile in this hodgepodge. Stick to fiction, John; always go with your strength.
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