Celebrating Updike Once More
Julian Barnes has a lovely, perceptive, and quite personal tribute to John Updike in the latest New York Review of Books. It ends:
In his very last story, “The Full Glass” (published in The New Yorker on May 26, 2008), a former insurance salesman turned floor sander, now approaching eighty, reviews his life through the prism of water (the sea, the body’s constitution, human tears, the glass of the stuff he needs to swallow his “life-prolonging pills”). Most people tend to see life as a glass that is, according to temperament, half-full or half-empty. This (for once unnamed) first-person narrator prefers to retrospect in terms of “moments of that full-glass feeling.” The story’s last sentence, in which the narrator stands back and looks at himself—or Updike stands back and looks at the narrator, or Updike stands back and looks at himself—runs:
If I can read this strange old guy’s mind aright, he’s drinking a toast to the visible world, his impending disappearance from it be damned.
Impossible not to think of and feel for Updike as he tapped out that sentence and then added his last full stop, his fictional endpoint. Impossible equally not to honor and thank him with a reader’s raised glass, full to the brim—though preferably not with water.