Essays include a discussion of the social and historical context of Updike's work and a consideration of Updike's recurrent Jewish-American character, the blocked writer, Henry Bech.
John Updike's critics have been nearly as prolific as their subject. Fifty-one books, hundreds of essays, thousands of reviews, and even an encyclopedia have already been devoted to his work—unprecedented for a living American writer of his generation and rivaled by only a few of his predecessors from earlier ones. This volume is designed to add a wide-ranging survey of both Updike's work and the critical response to it. Divided into new essays on his Career, Life, and Influences and the Critical Contexts of his writing, reprints of previously published Critical Readings that address his major themes, characters, motifs, and concerns, and Resources for further study, it offers its readers insights into the breadth of his achievement from his earliest stories to the books he completed in the last months of his life.
It begins with an introduction, which explores Updike's views of his vocation and the particular character of his work through examination of The Early Stories:1953-1975 and his final works, especially the poetry collection Endpoint. A biographical sketch then provides an overview of the life and career whose work was deeply rooted in autobiography. Writing for The Paris Review, Robert Roper's examination of the mid-career story "The Man Who Became a Soprano" leads to consideration of the Puritan inheritance, desire, and description in Updike.
Critical Contexts includes new essays by several scholars who have devoted much of their professional lives to studying Updike's work. These focus on the social and historical context of his writing and life. There is a report on the popular and scholarly response to his books. Others consider Updike's recurrent Jewish-American character, the blocked writer Henry Bech.
The Critical Readings begin with examinations of Updike's work that already seem classics. "The Pennsylvania Thing," explores the tenor and concerns of some of the most famous early Olinger stories as well as the third, National Book Award-winning, novel The Centaur. In "Updike's American Comedies" Joyce Carol Oates brings a fellow novelist's sympathy and understanding to her detailed exploration of the relations between men and women, the pagan and the Christian.
The four novels Updike wrote about Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom in ten-year intervals are generally considered the major achievement of his career as a novelist and have already been the focus of eight books and extensive critical commentary. There are four essays on them included here.
Each essay is 5,000 words in length, and all essays conclude with a list of "Works Cited," along with endnotes. Finally, the volume's appendixes offer a section of useful reference resources:
- A chronology of the author's life
- A complete list of the author's works and their original dates of publication
- A general bibliography
- A detailed paragraph on the volume's editor
- Notes on the individual chapter authors
- A subject index