John Updike has died. He was a great writer, whose early works will remain outstanding works of literature. In particular, The Poorhouse Fair is as ambitious and interesting a first novel as it is impossible to imagine. In it, the young Updike settled himself into the characters of a host of old and dying inmates of a poor house, and discussed life and death, Christ and and humanity, with a wisdom which is simply extraordinary in one so young.
I've written on this blog before that I feel Updike lost his way in latter years, and that those novels, with their relentless focus on sexual relations, lost something of that essential human beauty that occupied his earlier works. I will remember him for The Poorhouse Fair, The Centaur and Rabbit, Run. A more extraordinary trio of novels with which to begin a career it is difficult to imagine.
This is his character Hook speaking in The Poorhouse Fair. As an atheist, I can't accept these words, but I suspect they were close to the views of Updike himself, and I quote them now in the memory of a man who believed, not only in his God, but in the goodness of humanity, too:
There is no goodness, without belief. There is nothing but busy-ness. And if you have not believed, at the end of your life you shall know you have buried your talent in the ground of this world and have nothing saved, to take into the next.