John Updike’s Style: An example Sentence

I’ve always had a love/hate relationship with John Updike’s writing. On one hand, his maximalistic style is something to wonder at and revere for his sheer audacity to include everything his narrator’s mind chances upon. While at times his prose comes across as stodgy and pretentious, letting the reader know that he expects them to give up, and that he doesn’t mind if they do, because he’ll go on for pages waving his expository wit and keen observations until only he’s satisfied. It’s this willingness to go deeper, to observe more clearly, to write on the balance of enough already that Updike’s writing finds it’s beauty. Here finally, I give you an example:

“The high mountain sun gives a tinny thin coating of glory to the orange Rexall signs, the red tongues of the parking meters, the pink shorts of girls whose brown backs are delicately trussed by the strings of minimal halters, the rags of Army-surplus green being worn alike by overmuscled youths and squinting, bent geezers.”

I hope you didn’t give up reading through this brazen sentence that relies so much on the reader’s memory of the sun being used to form this dynamic and juxtaposed laundry list of visual images. Any one of these images would do the work for most mortal writers, but Updike stacks them together as if creating a painting, a Saturday Evening Post magazine cover of his own observed America. There’s “glory” and nostalgia and innocence in youth. But there’s menace in Army greens worn by punks and the elderly. For a moment, Can’t you imagine living here in this town, this picture of America?

At the very least, Updike, has provoked the reader into paying attention or quitting, either way, the reader will leave–gentle no more.

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