Desperation examined via the words of John Updike: “Was I clever enough? Was I charming?”

Narcissism and Scapegoating

This book review in the New York Times about a a biography by Adam Begley about John Updike (an author whose work I happen to like so very much) made me think about desperation and the lengths one goes to to be seen. (Not the book review specifically, but about what it says about John Updike.)

And it made me a little sad.

From the piece, by Dwight Garner: 

John Updike (1932-2009) grew up to like high spirits, gags, party games. At The Harvard Lampoon, where he became editor, he organized elaborate pranks that required great mounds of elephant dung and the destruction of cars. At The New Yorker, he’d pretend to faint in elevators. He played Twister and Botticelli at his dinner parties. If things got dull, he’d fall off a couch.

He satirized his need to entertain in an early poem called “Thoughts While Driving Home”:

Was I clever enough? Was I charming?

Did I make at least one good pun?

Was I disconcerting? Disarming?

Was I wise? Was I wan? Was I fun?

I’m not saying whether or not Updike was trying to shape an identity or craft an image – I have no idea. But the need to be liked, to be “just right”…these things, while present in all of us, and present in toxic degrees in a narcissist, but the pain comes in the awareness that one is doing such posturing. 

Also from the piece:

That Updike had affairs, sometimes with his friends’ wives, is not news. “I drank up women’s tears and spat them out,” he declared in one late poem, “as 10-point Janson, Roman and ital.”

Brutal honesty? Bragging? Brilliant writing? Narcissism? Another personality characteristic gone awry and fueled by addiction? Maybe all.

But also a desperation if I read (and feel into) the space between the lines.

This is the things about the disease of narcissism, so much time must be spent reading between lines and in the reflection of mirrors.

Again, here is the link to the piece:

A Writerly Life, Beneath the Surface – ‘Updike,’ Adam Begley’s Look at a Novelist’s Career

Photo by Sebastián León Prado on Unsplash

About the author 

Meredith Resnick

A licensed clinical social worker, Meredith is a member of the International Association for Journal Writing, the C.J. Jung Club of Orange County, California, and an associate member of the Trauma Research Foundation. She has a special interest in healing through the expressive arts.

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