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Customer reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
21
Roger's Version: A Novel
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on April 20, 2017
Not one of Updike's best. Some long stretches were rough going-- both tedious and hard to understand-- about physics and computers and an attempt to prove the existence of God. Not much connection to The Scarlet Letter. Parts were interesting. It's a first person narrative by Roger, a professor of theology, who has a younger, second wife. He is not a likable character. Emphasis is on Roger and Dale, the computer guy trying to prove God's existence, who has an affair with Roger's wife. As usual in Updike, the men are the main characters.
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on June 26, 2014
I didn't really like this book all that much. It was well-written, as are all of Updike's books, but I didn't really like the characters. On the other hand, maybe that signals a good job on Updike's part. Maybe I wasn't supposed to like them.
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on December 6, 2014
Loved it. I'm a real Updike fan...as if you couldn't tell!
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on February 25, 2013
Strange and lovely work by Updike concerning the relationship between science, religion and (you guessed it) sexual behavior. Mind blowing.
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on March 19, 2009
It was Ian McEwan's piece on John Upike in the New York Review of Books that made me finally take "Roger's Version" off the shelf. An Updike acolyte, I had yet to read this book, but as McEwan focused on Updike's vision of a `dead spot' at the center of America, a recurring theme in Updike that McEwan notes in "Roger's Version," I knew it was time to crack it. McEwan notes that in this book `that dead spot was the ruined inner city of `Roger's Version,' a spoiled landscape through which a divinity professor takes a thirty-page stroll - one of the great set pieces of the entire body of work...'

Indeed. "Roger's Version" is a book that is loaded with landmines - lines, sometimes paragraphs, that a casual reader might quickly gloss over (and there are so many). But it is here that Updike is really making his points.

His uncanny, unsparing and totally accurate rendering of the inner city `hood is certainly a Boston area locale, but Updike is eerily prescient in that his description of a place that is very similar to Lowell, Mass., down to a multi-level that has survived a fire: `On this same corner a building, its lower floor reshingled in stylish irregular shades, had survived a fire in its top floors, which had left charred window frames empty of sashes; but the bar downstairs continued open, and sounds from within - the synthetic concussions of a video game. . . indicated a thriving business, well before the Happy Hour though it was.'

This is an exact description of the Rainbow Café, (a Kerouac haunt) though the fire did not happen until years after "Roger's Version" was published.

Here are some other landmines:

On Christianity: `How did those Israelites get their hooks into us so deeply, sticking us with their frightful black Bible and it imprecations while their modern descendants treat the matter as a family joke, filling their own lives with violin music and clear-eyed, Godless science? L'Chaim! Compared with the Jews we protestants do indeed dwell in the valley of death.'

On racial relations in America in the `80s, as he describes the guests at a faculty cocktail party, noting an African-American couple in attendance: `... and the Vanderluytens, to give our gathering the factitious jolly racial mix of a Coca-Cola commercial on television...'

And Updike's rendering of a night spent crunching code in a (very 1980s) university computer lab is stunning. `Vague sounds from elsewhere in the building - elevator doors opening and closing, cables singing in the black shaft, surges of humming on the floor below - indicate the presence of either of other night workers or else of automated workings, of timers and thermostats inflexibly sending their signals.'

As was his habit, Updike populates this book with topical references to when it was composed (the mid-`80s). There is Cyndi Lauper's `Girls Just Wanna Have Fun' as well as President Reagan's `Bonzo Goes to Bitburg' moment. And here Updike's bedrock conservatism is laid bare (as well as a gift of prophesy): `And yet it seemed to me that we all existed inside Reagan's placid, uncluttered head as inside a giant bubble, and that the day might come when the bubble burst, and those of us who survived would look back upon this present America as a paradise.'

Most commentators have referred to "Roger's Version" as one of Updike's lesser accomplishments. But to this reader Updike is as on top of his game here as he is in the Rabbit books. There are so many gems, so many brilliant observations, in this book.

But ultimately "Roger's Version" is about God and about life and about death - and Updike is unsparing in his assessment of the Big Questions:
`There are few things which, contemplated, do not like flimsy trapdoors open under the weight of our attention into the bottomless pit below.'

And the clincher:

`What was this desolation in Dale's heart, I thought, but the longing for God - that longing which is, when all is said and done, our only evidence of His existence?'
28 helpful votes
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VINE VOICEon April 12, 2006
Reading this finally convinced me that Mr. Updike really is a true master of the language! It seems impossible to top this as purely imaginative, yet true to life commentary on 1984-85 America, written in 1986. When a 29 year old computer Grad Student approaches Roger, the ex Methodist Divine, now Theology Prof, about a Grant which the young man hopefully pursues to prove (?) the existence of the Deity through Computer Technology, we're off to a great start in world of Academia, Theology and Scepticism, Family History, Friendships, Race Relations, Medicine, Evolutionary Science, Computer Science (hard to follow, even if dated!), City Neighborhoods of all kinds, not to mention author's usual reflections on adultery and stale marriages. Note how Mr. Updike smoothly switches between 1st and 3rd Persons, which is probably Roger's dream version of his wife's seamy escapades. The very last sentence seems strange, but throws another loop into this fine and seamless story!
8 helpful votes
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on August 12, 2000
There is something not quite human about how much John Updike actually KNOWS. Roger's Version is a substantial novel about the relationship between a professor of divinity and an expert in computer science. Updike does not shy from - rather he wholeheartedly immerses himself in - the details of these spheres of interest, seesawing between the complexities of heretical sects in the early Christian Church and the voluminous realms of astrophysics. One minute we are reading long quotations in medieval Latin; the next we get - for example - 'Since z = 2.5 constitutes a plane, then by setting z equal to the transformed coordinates of the model carbon molecule atoms Dale creates a series of more complex intersections...'. The story is about the extent to which the two esoteric schools can be made to meet; basically, can one 'prove' the existence of God through science? In pursuing the argument Updike, naturally, does more than just thrash through the intellectual issues; he structures the whole affair with his typical artistry, so that the idea of, say, the binary opposition informs a raft of clever leitmotifs - most gorgeously: 'At her attack, the delicious flutter of ambiguity beat its wings, necessarily two, through all my suddenly feminized being.' This is a magisterial, monumental book. It's a fine, heavy book. In the scale of both its intellectual and artistic pretensions I honestly think one can call it Miltonic.
11 helpful votes
12 helpful votes
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on March 9, 2013
Weird, sometimes lurid tale of several interacting psyches in middle class academic setting, overwritten as you would expect from JD, but who cares, it's Updike phrasing and word usage to perfection. It's not a beach read but if you can read undisturbed in a quiet place, you smile at the master's skill.
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on September 12, 2000
Updike at his effortless best in this profound yet brilliantly flowing novel that explores the alkward relationship between religion and science...
The story is narrated by Roger, a morally dubious yet entertaining and witty doctor of divinity at an Eastern university. Roger is approached by a gangling, spotty computer scientist (who is also a born-again Christian) seeking a grant to "scientifically" prove the existance of god!
Things get complicated when the student begins having an affair with Esther, Roger's wife, while he himself begins an affair with a distant relative who lives across town in a housing project. Within this simple yet touching quadrangle of relationships come excepts from Roger's lectures on heretics, and comments on modern cosmology...
Add to this Updike's effortlessly telling descriptions, from the feel of cold streets to the elaborate rituals of academic board meetings and you have a very fine novel indeed.
One slight critisism - the computer technology so lovingly described is virtually obsolete already. This makes Roger's Version an unusally dated Updike work.
10 helpful votes
11 helpful votes
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on March 9, 2015
After reading this book, I now understand the existential struggle of intellectual middle class white people.
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