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John Updike, “Licks of Love”

Jordan | Cram it in Your Ear | Thursday, December 14th, 2006


There was a time when I was really into John Updike. I haven’t read one of his books in some time so I picked up this collection of short stories. As I slogged through the first 100 pages I was tempted to toss it across the room. “Oh, who cares about adultery in the suburbs!!” Because that’s all any of these stories are about and, to the best of my recollection, that’s all he’s ever written about. But then there was some sort of breakthrough and I was able to get back into the rhythm and voice of these stories. By the time I hit the dessert (“Rabbit Remembered” a coda/novella of Updike’s triumphant Rabbit tetralogy is saved til last) I couldn’t put it down. In fact, I spent most of today kinda hiding in the corners, reading on the job (you can do that on slow days, sometimes.) I was reminded at just how stinking depressing Updike can be (remind me never to be a suburban adulterer) and how fabulous the Rabbit books are.


  1. My favorite author!!!!!! At least in the top ten. Updike novels I suggest….. Brazil (nothing to do with the movie, but this book did change my life and who can beat Conquistadors and shapeshifters in the same novel?) The Bech series which is less adulterous and fun( a fictional parody of himself ) and who can forget The WItches of Eastwick? Far different and superior than the movie of the same name….

    Comment by Ralph Pulner — December 15, 2006 @ 12:10 am

  2. Ach, your nostalgia for Rabbit, Run got the better of you. Rabbit Remembered was suckola – read it just after Rabbit at Rest (like I did, I was mainlining the stuff back in ’04) and you’ll see that the characters in Remembered make no sense and are nothing like the ones in the former books. It’s obvious Updike just had some leftover PA ideas and wanted to write another Rabbit book, then remembered, shit, I killed the guy last time after I swore I wouldn’t write another one of these damn Rabbit books no matter how much money Knopf promises me, what can I do? Well, I’ll just make the best friend marry Rabbit’s wife, and make the mystery daughter meet up with the cokehead son, and it’ll all come together! Anyway it sucks. Plus, wtf is up with the banjo? No one’s playing the banjo there.

    Comment by rozger — December 15, 2006 @ 12:13 am

  3. One of the other stories is about a banjo player on tour in the USSR.

    Comment by Jordan — December 15, 2006 @ 8:57 am

  4. The banjo-player story was okay–I read it in the Atlantic Monthly, I think. It was about a banjo player who commits adultery in the DC suburbs before leaving for a tour of the USSR. I recall that Updike had the protagonist, a bluegrass picker, mentioning that he traveled with a turn -of-the-century SS Stewart as a back-up instrument, which, frankly ruined the whole thing for me. Would never happen.

    Another annoyance about “Licks of Love” is that this book was on the new release tables in every book store I went into for a year, and I’d always be drawn to the cover:

    “a new book on banjos!” said my interior monologue. “O…just that damn Updike thing.” The repeated disappointment was a bit too much to take.

    Comment by James R. — December 16, 2006 @ 9:37 pm

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