Of The Farm by John Updike – A Book Review

Of The Farm details the complex relationship between a son in his mid-thirties and his elderly mother.  The son brings his new wife and her son from a previous marriage to his mother’s remote farm, and it’s obvious from the beginning that the mother and the wife are not going to get along.

Though a brief novel, Updike delivers an intricate and dramatic story peeling away the complicated layers that make up relationships.  Throughout the book, the man is constantly on alert, hoping to defuse any arguments between the women in his life, but he refuses to stand up to his mother nor does he seem totally invested in being committed to his wife.

In fact, the man is an incredibly interesting character because he is so flawed, so monumentally incapable of mediating the warring women in a healthy manner, that he almost leaps off the page.  Surely he’ll remind you of someone you know … perhaps even yourself.  The women were also expertly written, something that doesn’t always happen with a male author.  I found the mother and wife realistic, respectable, and equally as flawed as the main character.

Though lacking any real physical action, Updike’s study of mothers and sons and husbands and wives is wickedly enticing and, as always, written very well.

Beck At Bay by John Updike – A Book Review

John Updike is one of those names I had always heard of but had never checked out.  Finally, a few weeks ago, I decided that it was time for me to get acquainted with Mr. Updike.  I must say that the first work I chose to read of his did not disappoint me. 

Bech at Bay is the last in a series of books that feature Henry Beck, and aged writer who still manages to find himself in precarious adventures.  Bech at Bay is a series of short stories that loosely make up a larger story.  At times hilarious, at times insightful, and at times rather disturbing, I found myself quite pleased with Mr. Updike’s work.  I look forward to reading more of it.

Toward the End Of Time by John Updike – A Book Review

John Updike’s Toward the End Of Time proved a bit of an enigma to me.  At times I thoroughly enjoyed it and at other times I seriously thought about putting the book down, never to open its contents again.

In the novel our protagonist goes by the name of Ben Turnbull, a retired finance expert who now haunts his home in the country as his wife obsesses with the garden, her social circles, and a gift shop she helps run.  The year is 2020, and a war with the Chinese has all but obliterated the United States as we currently know it.  However, New England has been little affected and so life is fairly normal. 

Perhaps that is Updike’s most astonishing talent.  Amongst all the mundane aspects of his tale, he’ll sometimes throw in facts about the war, or briefly mention a new life form that has emerged as a result of the war, or slip into metaphysical dissertations about all aspects of science that will virtually boggle your mind.  Along with that, at times Ben, our narrator, will slip into . . . something . . . where he is someone totally different living in ancient Egypt or soon after the death of Christ.  Perhaps just as flummoxing is the disappearance and reemergence of major characters with little to no explanation.

Amidst all this, however, exist the story of a man aging, a man who feels useless to his wife and to himself more and more with each passing day.  He is a man still hot with passion for life and for love, but he finds fulfillment for these passions in the most unusual and sometimes immoral of places.

While this novel presented itself as a constant frustration, one cannot ignore the sheer talent Updike has at imagery.  Ben’s wife’s garden is described in the utmost detail, and there are many, many metaphors as the garden is constantly torn asunder and the local wildlife exterminated in favor of the garden’s survival for Ben’s slow but sure demise and for his strained relationship with his wife.

If you are a fan of Updike and want to explore more of his interesting styles and techniques, you would probably enjoy this work very much.  However, if you are a casual reader looking for a new book, I don’t think you would enjoy this particular work.