Martin Amis has written of John Updike what could be said of himself: "[He] has that single inestimable virtue: having read him once, you admit to yourself, almost with a sigh, that you will have to to read everything he writes."
Here are some reviews of the book, NY Times, Boston Book Review, Christopher Caldwell.
Here’s the raw material:
Richard sat at his desk; he had just put Untitled away for the morning, after completing an hysterically fluent passage of tautly leashed prose.*
But he subscribed to the view of the Critic as Bouncer. Only geniuses were allowed in Richard’s speakeasy.
Braced at first by the Saharas and Gobis of talentlessness which hourly confronted him, he now knew this stuff for what it was. It wasn’t bad literature. It was anti-literature. Propaganda, aimed at the self. Richard’s novels might have been unreadable, by they were novels. Whereas the finished typescripts, printouts and flabby exercise books that lay around him here just hadn’t made it out of some more primitive form: diary, dreamjournal, dialectic. As in a ward for the half-born, Richard heard these creatures’ cries, and felt their unviewable spasms, convulsed in an earlier version of being. They were like tragic babies; they were like pornography.
I can’t give up novels." Why not?" Because…because then he would be left with experience, with untranslated and unmediated experience. Because then he would be left with life.
The way her lips gave just enough to be more than very polite.
It was more that he felt the desire to smoke a cigarette even when he was smoking a cigarette. The need was and wasn’t being met.
To him, builders meant destruction. Bumcrack cowboys, knee-deep in pointlessness and slime, and raising nothing but hell.
…like trying to get a raw oyster into a parking meter.
It is evening and the bloodbath of sunset is daubed over the rooftops.
Every sensitive man was allowed a midlife crisis: when you found out for sure that you were going to die, then you ought to have one. If you don’t have a midlife crisis, then that’s a midlife crisis.
For a shampoo you would go to the carwash with such a head of hair.
-when Marco cried. Adulterers sometimes leave beds suddenly. But nobody leaves a bed as suddenly as a mother.
Television: Every household, be it ever so mean, shared this square of dead gray.
When Gina his wife starts sleeping with writers before they were married Richard "found his jealousy reasonably easy to manage when she slept with poets – easier, much easier, than when she slept with novelists and (especially) dramatists. He liked poets because they had no power and no money.
…that slobbering fuckpig of an Englishman
These pains were informers sent by death
…and there they were, staring down the sights of their lives and drawing a bead on the information.
An I for an I.
Her blue-jeaned thighs were widely and rigidly parted, her feet erectly tensed on their toes.
He remembered the preemptive mwa of her kiss as he bade her good-night outside her room.
Success revamps you. It must keep you young. Because failure sure makes you old.
You could see lights, and the reflections of lights, car lights, murkily glistening – the filthy jewelry of Kennedy Expressway. They heaved on, flanked and tailed by mustang, bronco, pinto, colt, by bluebird and thunderbird and ladybird and lark, by panda and cobra, by jaguar, by cougar: the filthy menagerie of Kennedy Expressway.
The sky was there to provide the artistic comment on the day, the weather, the light it was screening for you, but it was also there to tell you about the universe, the gentlest pointers and reminders of the most part, with no hard lessons about where you stood in it and where this left you.
Richard always found stimulation and unaffected good cheer in the company of poets because they were the only living writers who were lowlier than he was.
Poets got women. They didn’t get anything else, and women sensed this; so they go women.
With Nabokov, and others, Richard regarded the drama as a primitive and long exhausted form. The drama boasted Shakespeare (which was an excellent cosmic joke), and Chekov, and a couple of sepulchral Scandinavians. Then where were you? Deep in the second division.
Time is a dimension, not a force. But women felt it as a force, because they could feel its violence, every hour. They knew they would be half dead at forty-five. This information did not fall in the path of men. Men, at forty-five, were in the "prime of life." Prima (hora): first (hour)? They get the Change. We get the Prime. And this is the reason why our bodies weep and seep in the night, because we’re half dead too, and don’t know how or why.
The prose is given to tautness and burnish precisely by what it deliberately excludes. Picasso’s abstracts gain their force from the …from the representational mastery he holds in check.
On the other hand, he was free to wonder why so many writers’ women killed themselves, or went insane. And he concluded: because writers are nightmares. Writers are nightmares from which you cannot awake. Most awake when alone, they make living hard to do for those around them.
Literature Richard said, described a descent. First, gods. The demigods. Then epic became tragedy: failed kings, failed heroes. Then the gentry. Then the middle class and its mercantile dreams. Then it was about you – Gina, Gilda: social realism. Then it was about them: lowlife. Villains. The ironic age. And he was saying, Richard was saying: Now what? Literature, for a while, can be about us (nodding resignedly at Gwyn): about writers. But that won’t last long. How do we burst clear of all this?
It seemed to him that all the time he used to spend writing he now spent dying. This was the truth. And it shocked him. It shocked him to see it, naked. Literature wasn’t about living. Literature was about not dying. Suddenly he knew that writing was about denial. Suddenly he knew that denial was great. Denial was so great. Denial was the best thing. Denial was even better than smoking.
Absolutely everyone in pornography was absolutely humorless. Steve never quite got this.
Three days of weather were stacked in the sky. Here was today. And there was tomorrow. And other there, the day after.
Book titles in The Information:
Protagonist Richard Tull, novelist, author of Untitled, and editor of The Little Magazine, is tasked throughout with reviewing such 700 page page-turners as:
The Soul’s Dark Cottage: A Life of Edmund Waller,
The Unfortunate Lover: Willian Davenant, Shakespeare’s Bastard,
L.H. Myers: The Forgotten,
The Wouldbegood: A Life of Edith Nesbit,
Times Song: Winthrop Praed, 1802-1839,
AntiLatitudinarian: The Heretical Career of Francis Atterbury,
The House of Fame: A Life of Thomas Tyrewhitt,
Man of his Words: The Life and Times of Ingram Bywater.
Character names in The Information include: Agnes Trounce, Gal Aplanalp, Chuck Pfister, Phil Smoker, Darko, Scozzy.
* Bold = brightest spectacles.