Pulitzer-prize winning American novelist John Updike, author of The Witches of Eastwick, Couples, Rabbit is Rich, and Rabbit at Rest, died today of lung cancer. He was 76. His most recent novels were last year’s The Widows of Eastwick, the follow-up to Witches, and 2006’s Terrorist. His short story collection, My Father’s Tears and Other Stories, is due out later this year.
Updike grew up in small-town Pennsylvania, the only son of his math-teacher father and aspiring-novelist mother. As a kid, he tore through mysteries and sci-fi novels, and admired the illustrations and humor writing in The New Yorker. While attending Harvard, he published his first story in The New Yorker at age 22.After a two-year stint living in New York City and reporting for The New Yorker’s Talk of the Town section, he moved his first wife, Mary, and their children (they eventually had four, before they divorced in 1976) to Ipswich, Mass., in 1957, when he was 25.
Along the way, Updike wrote the one book that deserves to be called the Great American Novel. It’s Rabbit Angstrom, a 1,500-page single volume from Everyman’s Library that consists of the four Rabbit novels Updike penned at 10-year intervals between 1960 and 1990. They follow Harry ”Rabbit” Angstrom, a former high school basketball star from a fictional Pennsylvania town (based on Updike’s own), as he lives his quintessentially American life through the ’50s (Rabbit, Run), ’60s (Rabbit Redux), ’70s (Rabbit Is Rich), and ’80s (Rabbit at Rest). When Rabbit at Rest came out in 1990, it was a grand ending to Updike’s American epic. As Martin Amis wrote at the time: ”With Rabbit, Run (1960), Rabbit Redux (1971), and Rabbit Is Rich (1981), John Updike loaded the bases. Rabbit at Rest is the home run.” EW named it the best fiction book of the 1990s. To the chagrin of anyone holding out hope for a fifth novel, Rest ended with Rabbit getting felled by a heart attack.
Both Rabbit Is Rich and Rabbit at Rest won Updike a Pulitzer Prize(William Faulkner and Booth Tarkington are the only other writers to wina pair of Pulitzers for fiction). –Additional reporting by Gregory Kirschling