Sunday, December 14, 2008

The End Of Time

As I near the end of my own time, Updike's Toward The End Of Time provides a kind of reference point for me. I've outlived Harry Angstrom. Ben Turnbull, 66-year-old ex-financier, failing in body and mind, is my benchmark now.

Ben lives in an alternate future that features Al Gore as a former President, nuclear war with China, the collapse of the federal government and security services from FedEx. The latter makes sense. They have the trucks and people, and they know the neighborhoods. I've often thought FedEx or UPS should deliver our bombs for us. Problem is, I suppose, that, as international corporations, they might take contracts from other countries, too, maybe even contracts to turn around in mid-flight and drop our bombs on us.

One of the permissions Updike gives us is to treat fiction as fiction. After all, centaurs and witches are no more or less believable than FedEx providing security in the absence of police or rich, old Ben Turnbull, consorting with teenage whores as he works through a dying marriage and approaches his inevitable confrontation with impotence and incontinence, unless death intervenes first.

Updike lives in and writes about a privileged world, and he keeps some of that world's secrets, even while revealing others. One of its closest held secrets is that there are skilled surgeons, doctors with a touch so precise they can remove a diseased prostate without damaging the nerves that effect continence and erections.

1 comment:

artappraiser said...

Every time I see Updike's name and whatever new thing he is up to, I think of how when he is gone people will wonder why we did not better recognize a giant of American culture walking among us. I suppose Twain was taken for granted in his time, too (as was Dickens in another culture.) He's the real thing; Tom Wolfe, for example, is a pitiful charlatan in comparison, and that's coming from someone who enjoys much of Wolfe's work. Unlike many of his genarational colleagues like Pynchon or Doctorow or Connell, there is nothing precious about his work, it not "literature," it is all American.

Come to think of it, the throwing shoe video could easily have been a scene in one of his works.

I don't know if he hold secrets as much as he is continually seeking them out. I think his interest in writing on American visual art is part of that.