I just heard that John Updike died today of lung cancer.
My first exposure to John Updike came in a literature class my junior year of high school. While I’m sure I had heard of him before, I had never really paid any attention. We read “A&P” and I fell in love. I had never had a short story affect me so strongly. At the time, I had two best friends—on short and commanding, the other tall and graceful. I knew just what those girls were trying to do in that convenience store that day, and I knew the kind of power they held over that young cashier. In just 20 pages, I understood adolescence more completely than I had at another other time in my 16-year life.
I went on to read every other Updike short story and novel I could get my hands on that year. I was amazed by the transient quality of the characters in Brazil, I loved to hate Henry Bech, and I connected to the people that survived the wars of the past in a way that no history book or lesson had ever taught me. And for the first time, I could see why a movie version of a novel paled so greatly in comparison to the words of a writer when I read/watched The Witches of Eastwick.
I continued to love John Updike as I got to know of the man. The longevity and timelessness of his work amazed me. I couldn’t believe that his career spanned generations, and he continued to publish works and write even after falling ill. His newest collection of short stories—My Father’s Tears and Other Stories—is set for publication June 2 of this year by Knopf Press. But he was also a husband, father and artist.
Though I have moved on from my teenage obsession with Updike (let’s be honest, a lot of that obsession stemmed from the fact that he wrote about love and sex and war—all subjects that every teen wants to learn more about but are often considered too “adult” for that age group), but he will always hold a special place in my heart for the great influence he had on my literary development. We have lost a great writer today, and for that, I am deeply saddened.