Welcome sign in sign up. You can enter multiple addresses separated by commas to send the article to a group; to send to recipients individually, enter just one address at a time. This is a poor novel irritatingly marred by good features. Then, lest we forget, the author has appended, at the suggestion of his wife, an index of the mythical references which crop up throughout the text. Nearly three pages are devoted to this catalogue, which instead of being explanatory is more in the nature of a score card. The nymphs and deities are simply listed, in alphabetical order, along with their page references.
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Welcome sign in sign up. You can enter multiple addresses separated by commas to send the article to a group; to send to recipients individually, enter just one address at a time. This is a poor novel irritatingly marred by good features. Then, lest we forget, the author has appended, at the suggestion of his wife, an index of the mythical references which crop up throughout the text. Nearly three pages are devoted to this catalogue, which instead of being explanatory is more in the nature of a score card.
The nymphs and deities are simply listed, in alphabetical order, along with their page references. Achilles scores three appearances, Adonis five, Argus runs neck and neck with Daedalus with four references, while up in the big league, Aphrodite, Zeus, and Pandora get ten or eleven mentions each.
The novel itself ends with an untranslated, five- line quote in Greek. The work collapses finally under this freight of classical reference. Human affairs, of course, cast allegorical shadows. Gods and nymphs are vivid ciphers which do dramatize some of the more permanent themes of mortal business.
We all of us, at one time or another, approximate in our behavior and in our predicaments, to one or other of these mythical stereotypes. Suggestions of this dualism can sometimes intensify fiction by projecting it into an immortal perspective, letting the reader in on a dramatic irony where the characters, unknown to themselves, are worked, like marionettes, by the ideal forms of which they themselves are simply flawed and provisional replicas.
So far so good; the trick calls for tact and finesse, though. If the allegorical theme is announced too clearly the irony becomes monotonous and the art gives way to pedantry. Exactly what has happened in The Centaur. It is interesting in this respect to contrast the work with two successful novels with which it shares certain issues. The Centaur is a portrait, not just of Chiron, the schoolteacher, wearied by domestic and professional struggles, but also of his son, an artist, who recalls three ice-bound days of his Pennsylvania childhood.
Such fleeting innuendoes, confidently occasional, are quite enough to indicate the larger scale against which the human events are set. The fact is that Updike does himself a great disservice by enameling his tale with the elaborate reference. At the center of all that wearisome pedantry he has a neglected germ of literary imagination.
The father is carefully and sympathetically observed with a shambling heroism, fatigued and gullible, which is nicely set off against the irritable fondness of his son. He has chosen however to inflate this compact moral set-up, blowing it up into a volume which is out of proportion to its weight. The book is still further damaged by the necessity which Updike makes out of his own virtue.
His sly adjectival prose creates an extraordinary surface effect. This is what I think is called sensitive writing. It certainly shows nimble, almost feline, accuracy of physical perception, capturing in a few supple lines the essence of certain observations. I say that he has made a necessity out of his own virtue, but perhaps I should say virtuosity, since it is his enslavement of his own bravura skill which finally disqualifies this novel from genuine literary consideration.
He is hung up on his own sensitivity and unable to drive his story on with the narrative urgency of genuine literary work. There is a term, used in physiological optics, which perfectly illustrates this defect. And this is where Updike has failed.
The first half of this book is so heavily cargoed with physical effects that it can never get up the necessary speed. Then, quite suddenly, towards the middle, the projector becomes synchronized and the figures begin to move with convincing fluency and a genuine sense of motive.
This middle sequence, taken up with the father and son snow-bound in a small Pennsylvania town, abruptly jerks into motion and the characters seem to move against a landscape of physical detail which is in relieving proportion to the human figures in the foreground. This passage is startling in its quality, standing out from the smooth pretentiousness of everything with which it is surrounded. Facebook Twitter RSS. Email Email to share with Send Send a copy to myself.
What was I thinking? I class at Parsons School of Design? Published in , the novel takes place over three days in a small Pennsylvania town, the apparently unremarkable inhabitants of which soon emerge as avatars of Greek and Roman gods and demigods. Thus high school science teacher George Caldwell incarnates the wise centaur Chiron, while principal Louis Zimmerman personifies Zeus. Vera Hummel, the girls' gym teacher, is Venus.
American Centaur: An Interview with John Updike
Knopf in It won the U. National Book Award for Fiction. Portions of the novel first appeared in Esquire and The New Yorker. The story concerns George Caldwell, a school teacher, and his son Peter, outside of Alton i. The novel explores the relationship between the depressive Caldwell and his anxious son.
The English version appears here for the first time. He had arrived a day earlier. Tall, gray-haired, tired, and suffering from a cold, Updike talked to us for an hour over coffee at the Palace Hotel. It was his third interview that day, and yet, as he said, it was the only one about literature, rather than about lost baggage or tourist impressions—or pornography. I think it is a good award. He, in a way, is a Polish writer who lives in the United States, and his best writing seems to me to be still out of the Polish-Jewish world that has long ceased to exist. But it was a surprising choice.
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