Rabbit is gone: writer John Updike dies

Tue Jan 27, 2009 5:37pm EST
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By Scott Malone

BOSTON (Reuters) - John Updike, a leading writer of his generation who chronicled the drama of small-town American life with flowing and vivid prose, wit and a frank eye for sex, died on Tuesday of lung cancer. He was 76.

"It is with great sadness that I report that John Updike died this morning," said Nicholas Latimer of Alfred A. Knopf, a unit of Random House. "He was one of our greatest writers, and he will be sorely missed."

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author died in a hospice in Massachusetts, the state where he lived for more than half a century, prolific in his writing of novels, short stories, essays and criticism.

Updike's stories often focused on undercurrents of tension masked by the mundane surface of suburban America, which boomed in 1960s and 1970s as his career was taking off. Ripples of sexual tension were frequent.

An early short story, "A&P," chronicled an adolescent boy's inner turmoil when three bikini-clad teenage girls appeared in the supermarket where he worked.

"It's one thing to have a girl in a bathing suit down on the beach," Updike wrote, "and another thing in the cool of the A&P, under the fluorescent lights, against all those stacked packages, with her feet paddling along naked over our checkerboard green-and-cream rubber-tile floor."

Updike's frank focus on sex came before the profound changes in U.S. culture of the late 1960s lifted some of the taboo from the topic. His publisher rewrote portions of his second novel, "Rabbit, Run," before its first printing out of fear of being charged with obscenity.

That novel introduced the fictional hero Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom, the subject of four Updike novels and a novella over four decades, which won him two Pulitzer Prizes for fiction.   Continued...

<p>Author John Updike poses in an undated handout photo. Updike, a leading writer of his generation who chronicled the emotional drama of American small-town life with searing wit and vivid prose, died on January 27, 2009 of lung cancer. He was 76. REUTERS/Elena Seibert/Knopf/Handout</p>