Monday, March 12, 2012

SS Monday: John Updike & Woody Allen

I'm continuing Short Story Monday, courtesy of John Munford of The Bookmine Set.

This morning I read a number of stories from the collection Wonderful Town: New York Stories from the New Yorker, edited by David Remnick, my least favorite editor of The New Yorker. Why least favorite? Remnick has the unshakeable conviction that women do not or cannot write pieces of narrative journalism worthy of The New Yorker.  When Tina Brown was editor, she saw The New Yorker boost its readership massively, and yes, she published the work of many women journalists. Needless to say, I can't wait for Remnick to move on.

I've read two New Yorker short stories by Woody Allen, both published in the 1970s, in the days when Allen was still experimenting with various prose forms. Both are full of one-liner laughs, but the stories themselves do not hang together--the elements flap in the wind. No real characterization, no plot, yet full of ideas challenging societal norms.

Warning: I am incapable of offering objective views about John Updike's work. I am much too close to view his literary merit.
Today I read "Snowing in Greenwich Village," by John Updike, which was published in 1956. I cannot deny that he's an exquisite prose stylist, based on all the stories I've read over the years. But I'm always left feeling hollow after reading his work. I wish I could finish a story knowing that I was taking something, anything with me. For me, and this is deeply personal, I wish his themes would rise above what I perceive as banality. I expect something more from him--some big idea, some grand concept or meaning.

And now we arrive at the crux of the problem. If there were ever a writer who encapsulated my parents' generation, and here I'm speaking of the least noteworthy aspects of their postwar lives in the 1950s and 1960s, it is John Updike. His characters, their situations, and their values exhibit the worst that my parents' generation had to offer--a singular lack of depth and meaning. And here it may seem that I'm castigating my parents' generation and John Updike, the chronicler, which is not true. I completely understand why they were the way they were after all they'd lived through. And I see why people of my generation are not capable of judging them. But I must say that Updike exposes their frailties, their foibles, their myths in a way that is very difficult for me to read.


  1. Hi Judith,

    I was born in 1963 and have read a few John Updike stories over the years. He's not a favorite of mine either. I like a lot of depth in what I read and it seems to be laking in his stories.

  2. I must admit that I really enjoyed his Rabbit books, of course the whole setting is completely alien to me as I'm in Scotland, they seem quite exotic.