WHAT THE HELL

Kevin Brennan Writes About What It's Like

John Updike nails it

This little snippet from John Updike is something of a wake-up call.

It’s tempting to go on and on about the state of the literary novel in America today, about how publishing, and therefore reading, have been hijacked by the entertainment culture, relegating literary fiction to a clique of readers who support a scant few MFA grads and aging giants. Tempting, but I won’t do it today.

I just want to second what Updike says D.H. Lawrence said, that the purpose of the novel is to extend the reader’s sympathy. It’s a beautifully simple idea, but one that I’m afraid is largely missing from a lot of today’s popular titles. They seem to exist only to put a protagonist in danger and then get her out of it by the end. This idea of “sympathy” morphs from “understand the humanity of a coal miner or a poor mother or a black man in chains” to “root for the hero to get out of another jam.”

What is it like to be someone else, the other? That’s what the novel is capable of depicting in a way that no other art form I can think of (other than the stage play) accomplishes.

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10 comments on “John Updike nails it

  1. rossmurray1
    April 25, 2014

    Good clip.

    • Kevin Brennan
      April 25, 2014

      And it’s hard to disagree with a gentle chap in coat and tie…

  2. sknicholls
    April 25, 2014

    Thanks for sharing. Your words resonate with me. I am not a big fan of popular fiction for the same reason. So much of it seems the same plot told ten thousand ways. I really want to develop some insight from what I read. I want it to touch some place in my soul.

    • Kevin Brennan
      April 25, 2014

      So true. I always thought that’s what writing was really for.

      • sknicholls
        April 25, 2014

        People keep telling me it is to entertain. I think good writing entertains like music and art, not like video games and TV. Maybe I am the one who is wrong.

  3. 1WriteWay
    April 25, 2014

    Excellent clip and, yes, the coat and tie give an extra measure of gravitas 🙂

    • Kevin Brennan
      April 25, 2014

      I should try it sometime…

      • 1WriteWay
        April 26, 2014

        Ha ha ha … well, I bet Updike felt more comfortable in a crew-neck sweater.

  4. ericjbaker
    April 26, 2014

    I would comment on this post, but, as you know, I am a hard-boiled police detective who – thanks to a cryptic letter from a little girl that was lost in the mail for 30 years and only now just showed up -has decided to reopen an old unsolved murder case. I’m a bit worried that I’m going blow open a conspiracy that goes all the way to the top and that my daughter might get kidnapped, but maybe I’m just being paranoid. I mean, I plan to retire next week and I just got an eager new rookie partner with a weird birthmark on his forehead that looks like a target.

    Toodles.

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This entry was posted on April 25, 2014 by in Writing and tagged , , , , .
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