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Seek My Face Hardcover – November 12, 2002
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"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover," illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Learn more
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John Updikeâs twentieth novel, like his first, The Poorhouse Fair (1959), takes place in one day, a day that contains much conversation and some rain. The seventy-eight-year-old painter Hope Chafetz, who in the course of her eventful life has been Hope Ouderkirk, Hope McCoy, and Hope Holloway, answers questions put to her by a New York interviewer named Kathryn, and recapitulates, through the story of her own career, the triumphant, poignant saga of postwar American art. In the evolving relation between the two women, the interviewer and interviewee move in and out of the roles of daughter and mother, therapist and patient, predator and prey, supplicant and idol. The scene is central Vermont; the time is the early spring of 2001.
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A recurring theme in Updike's work is the giving of oneself, sometimes to an indifferent receiver. And in fact for Updike, writing is an act of giving as much as of creating, which is why it's hard to think of another author as true and honest: DeLillo and Kundera, for example, can't come close. The inscription inside the stolen ring that Tristao gives Isabel in the novel Brazil are the initials DAR, Portuguese for "to give." In one of Updike's early stories, the last line is: "Thus the world, like a jaded coquette, spurns our attempts to give ourselves to her wholly." What Hope gives to Kathryn is an art history scholar's dream: a specific account of an era of American modern art and her role in it, including details which would have been easier for her to refuse to discuss. She gives some heartfelt advice, and withholds certain crueler truths. For example, when Kathryn explains that her boyfriend can't really have fun because so much of his life - his career - is undecided, Hope tells her don't wait, that "By the time everything is decided it will be too late. The moment is always now." But elsewhere Hope does not disclose a harsher truth, noting that the younger woman, "...has never learned how little the world needs us to give; its beauty is an impervious beauty, self-absorbed."
Whether or not Kathryn has the self-awareness to understand her own pursuit of the intimate details of Hope's life is uncertain. This could be Updike's comment on the jaded American appetite for the pedestrian suffering of our heroes, but more likely it's an observation of how Kathryn's generation has alienated itself from what it loves, redirecting its energy away from love of something for its own sake and toward the more definable and tangible successes of one's career. Again and again Kathryn rejects perfect opportunities to wrap things up and be on her way, to begin her long drive back into the city. But Kathryn, possibly bewildered by her own response to Hope's openness, having felt the gravity of a life lived well and wisely, can't seem to bring herself to leave before she's grasped something just outside her reach, as though she still hasn't quite figured out what she's missing, can't detect the source of her own alienation.
It's all plot. No climax, no resolution. And, I say this as someone who studied art history: it was so dry I had a very hard time slogging through it.
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.
Unless you're a die - hard Updike or Pollock fan, don't bother.
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Please people, that's Pollock, OK? not Pollack.