I don't race through an Updike novel--because I too often stop to reread a page or paragraph, to marvel at his artistry. There never seems to be word out of place, a sentence that might be written in any other, better, way. He's a magician.The novelist Michael Cunnigham does a much better job of explaining Updike's talent than I did.
On the level of language, I couldn't name a better living writer than Updike. To me, his prose strikes a rare and perfect balance between virtuosity and humility. I'm a sucker for big beautiful language (as Nabokov said, trust a murderer for a fancy prose style, and good novelists are murderers in a sense), and am at the same time conscious of a fine line between sentences that are fabulous in and of themselves and sentences that are fabulous in service of the story and its characters. I'm not bothered by it, but you could absolutely say that the prose of [Toni] Morrison, [Don]DeLillo, and [Cormac] McCarthy (not [Philip] Roth) runs to the show-off-y; even the mannered. Updike to me is always deploying his considerable gifts for the purposes of illumination, and not as a demonstration of his considerable gifts.Exactly.
Updike's latest novel, Terrorist, will be released in the coming week. Click here to read Charles McGrath's interview with him in the New York Times.