Old Moon

Monday, February 9, 2009

Inspiration or Demoralization?

I'm reading one of John Updike's later books Seek My Face . It's almost a treatise on Art (with a capital A) as well as a penetrating revelation of a woman's inner world as an artist herself and as the wife of an artist, as a member of her socio-economic class and of her time and place. So many layers with so many resonances that it's a little like reading a textbook, even while falling into the space and time of the telling. What a writer Updike was!

Imagine a novel that manages to recall and analyze modern art from the Great Depression up to the present. He doesn't even confine himself to the US. I do wonder whether a reader with no familiarity with the famous names of the period (he uses interesting made-up names for a number of characters, while mentioning Picasso and Manet, Miro and Dali and some others) would understand some of his critiques of lesser-known artists. The thing that amazes me is that it doesn't matter. If you never heard of Gorki, you still get the picture not only of how his work looked, but how an outstanding art critic saw it. The interweaving of art criticism and character delineation is astounding. You keep thinking you're going to be bored any minute, but I couldn't stop reading.

It's hard to decide whether books like this make a would-be writer throw up her hands in despair and quit, or knuckle down to try all over again. I'd love to hear how others react...

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