John Updike, the writer behind the Rabbit Angstrom novels and the author of hundreds of short-stories and essays on a myriad of subjects, died today. He was 76. If you’re a member of the New York Times’ website (and you should-it’s free) you can read his obituary here.
More after the jump.
The literary giant got his start at The Harvard Lampoon as a cartoon artist, and although I can’t say much for his artistic wit (I’m sure it’s above my comprehension), he did manage to catch the attention of a few of the fine folks over at The New Yorker where he published hundreds of essays, poems and fiction pieces throughout the fifties.
Of course, Updike’s career went on to encompass much more than just his early years at the magazine. (He certainly wouldn’t have earned the posthumous label of “kaleidoscopically gifted writer” from the Times if it hadn’t.) But for my money, nothing beats his famed 1960 profile of baseball legend Ted Williams.
So much more than just an article on an athlete, “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu” is the beautifully constructed characterization of a man who, although he was constantly held to light in the eyes of so many, was very much an enigma to the world around him.
Either way it’s damn good writing, especially if you hold the slightest regard for 1950’s era, American League slugging left fielders from San Diego who liked to fish, or even just baseball in general. But again, it’s more than just sports related writing — it’s actually good.
Anyway, it’s one of my favorites — up there with Gay Talese’s 1966 “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” (which I also recommend if you have an hour or so of free time) — and now that Updike has finally bid us all adieu I figured it’s as good a time as ever to revisit one of the most famous pieces by one of the 20th century’s master wordsmiths.
Like a feather caught in a vortex, Williams ran around the square of bases at the center of our beseeching screaming. He ran as he always ran out home runs—hurriedly, unsmiling, head down, as if our praise were a storm of rain to get out of. He didn’t tip his cap. Though we thumped, wept, and chanted “We want Ted” for minutes after he hid in the dugout, he did not come back. Our noise for some seconds passed beyond excitement into a kind of immense open anguish, a wailing, a cry to be saved. But immortality is nontransferable. The papers said that the other players, and even the umpires on the field, begged him to come out and acknowledge us in some way, but he never had and did not now. Gods do not answer letters.