The Moderate Imagination: The Political Thought of John Updike and the Decline of New Deal Liberalism

Univ. Pr. of Kansas. Jun. 2020. 288p. ISBN 9780700629527. $39.95. POL SCI
The notion of John Updike as a political writer is not new; Matthew Shipe and Scott Dill’s Updike & Politics: New Considerations offered glimpses of the political aspects of his writings. In this new study, Fromer (Tel Aviv Univ.), a contributor to that earlier volume, provides a more cohesive political reassessment of Updike. His thesis is that Updike, portrayed as moderate and cautious in his views, depicted the social and economic changes in postwar America that led to the gradual decline of liberalism. To illustrate the tension between liberalism and modernism, Fromer closely examines four of Updike’s early novels: The Poorhouse Fair (1959); Rabbit, Run (1960); Couples (1968); and Rabbit Redux (1971), which he considers to be the most political with the Vietnam War, civil rights movement, and counterculture as a backdrop. Fromer is a perceptive literary critic, but the real strength of this book lies more in his mastery of liberal political philosophy. The chapter on Updike’s Harvard education in the early 1950s presents a revealing look at the intellectual influences that formed the foundation for Updike’s works.
VERDICT Fans of Updike will learn a lot from this book, which will also appeal to students of postwar American political history.
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