decades later, I read The Witches of Eastwick and Updike’s
scene-setting riff on the “subtle change” that occurs when
you enter Rhode Island, with its “cheerful dishevelment [and]
Wind contempt for appearances,” its “vacant hinterlands hastily
traversed by straight black roads,” and “lunar stretches…
If God has any voice it is the wind. [with] only an abandoned roadside stand offering the ghosts
of last summer’s CUKES.”
Women hate There was that uncanny thing again. With a few strokes
this seeking of a vacuum, Updike had limned my inchoate personal impressions, amassed
it gets their edges up, over years of personal experience, and rendered them more
they cannot sleep, they think vividly than I could have. How did he know Rhode Island so
of Boreas impregnating primeval Night, well? How did he know me?
of skirts rudely lifted in funhouses.
hrough college and beyond, there was hardly a book
It is death made loud: of his I didn’t read. It was that young writer’s greedy
nowhereness bellowing, and ferocious way of being all over another writer’s
now reedy along the copper eaves, work. And to think that this person whose books I loved was
now ballooned to a manifold softness by a tree, a living writer—someone who, unlike Dickens or Austen, was
now scraping like flint on the surface of water, out there somewhere, writing still more of them.
making arrowhead wrinkles, In 1985, I was living in Manhattan and had just published
seeking somewhere to stop and be. a story in the Atlantic. Updike was giving a reading at Seton
Hall University—poetry—and I took a bus out to New Jersey.
Wind carves. It makes mesas In a small lecture room in the student center, Updike stood
and heaps up the waves as a rich man plays at a lectern and, in a quiet and surprisingly thin voice, read
with remote corporations that swallow and shift several poems. Afterward, escorted by the English Department
poor fish by the thousand. chairman, he headed out in the hall to a table set up for book
I lie here listening. signing. I trailed close behind, ready to be recognized should a
magic beam of heavenly light illuminate me in the Aut