Cranky old John Updike has always used his bully pulpit at The New Yorker to blast popular writers who didn't fit his idea of fiction. As he's gotten older, his hatred of anything he doesn't understand has become commensurately more transparent, earning the ire of Salman Rushdie, Tom Wolfe, and David Foster Wallace. And when you use that power to throw both Toni Morrison and William Faulkner under the bus in that magazine while making sure to say that you find her white characters the most convincing, we have a problem with you, you old bastard.In 1975 Anatole Broyard wrote in The New York Times that as a critic, John Updike was "too kind." In the years since he seems to have taken that diss to heart, relentlessly smearing even the most slightly ambitious work that's not in his preferred, realistic style...of men who only think about sex. He starts off this truly wretched review in this week's New Yorker with the following bon mot/machete, "Toni Morrison has a habit, perhaps traceable to the pernicious influence of William Faulkner, of plunging into the narrative before the reader has a clue to what is going on." This is nothing new for Updike — as his prose has gotten more journalistic and dull over time, his level of tolerance for more exciting stylists is inversely proportional to his own ineptitude, and he's made many enemies. (Salman Rushdie once said after Updike criticized how he named his characters, "Why not? Somewhere in Las Vegas there's a male prostitute named John Updike.") He needs to take a cue from the man who said, "Try to understand what the author wished to do, and do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt." That of course was John Updike, more than three decades ago. The 76-year-old Updike pretends to be more politic before throwing Morrison under the bus, as if it were impossible to know exactly what he thinks of A Mercy. Ironically, his language becomes more circular and winding than Morrison as he puts her down in the most condescending fashion possible. Does he know how transparently pathetic he sounds?
Since we're such big fans of Time book critic Lev Grossman, this week's review of John Updike's latest book troubles us that much more. Updike apparently has images of Grossman tearing through The Da Vinci Code somewhere, because we can't think of any other reason to toss Philip Roth aside so quickly and embrace John Updike so completely as he does in his review of their latest efforts. The adulation becomes unbearable starting now.Lev Grossman fellates Updike with a knowing look as Updike cradles his bald head in a three part essay that also addresses Philip Roth and Toni Morrison. Grossman's highest praise is for the man from his alma mater:
"The true New Yorker secretly believes that anyone living anywhere else must somehow, in a sense, be kidding."