Reviews — From the June 2014 issue

Agreeable Angstrom

John Updike, Yes-Man

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Updike, by Adam Begley. Harper. 576 pages. $29.99. harpercollins.com.

The least receptive audience for Adam Begley’s hefty, thorough biography of John Updike may well be other writers. There are certain sentimental tropes about the writing life that writers tend to treasure in order to keep the faith necessary to stay on a career path so generous with discouragements and so parsimonious with rewards: for instance, the notion that rejection builds character. Or that there is some sort of karmic relationship between brutal obscurity and eventual, even posthumous fame — that the latter can be attained only by passing through the moral crucible of the former. What struggling young writer — or bitterly persistent middle-aged writer, for that matter — wouldn’t rather read about the example set by Herman Melville or Emily Dickinson or even John Kennedy Toole than about someone whose career consisted of nothing but unbroken critical and popular success?

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’s most recent novel is A Thousand Pardons (Random House). His last article for Harper’s Magazine, “The American Id,” appeared in the January issue.

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