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Authors: John Updike

Seek My Face

BOOK: Seek My Face
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“Rich and engaging … Vividly rendered … A subtle work that’s beautiful and profound, witty and trenchant. It’s what we’ve come to expect from this prestigious figure of American letters—effortless, fully human fiction whose ambitiousness is all the more impressive in that its tone is often conversational, off-handedly Olympian.… With
Seek My Face
, Updike has given us not only the record of the rise and fall of American art, from poetry to product, he’s also rendered, carefully and lovingly, the dynamics of an essential conversation/struggle—that between battered, knowing experience and crass innocence. All great fiction aims at this sort of instruction, a kind of conversation between a single, fallible, representative human being and the voice of history. With Hope’s story, Updike is doing in miniature what he did with his trademark Harry ’Rabbit’ Angstrom tetralogy—telling the tale of America’s maturation, from exuberance to exhaustion, in the story of a very real character.… His critique of the human condition is as sharp as ever, never lacking acuity or panache.… Like his protagonist, he’s a winning militant—generous, convincing, celebratory, and unbowed.”


“Appreciative, wry and, well, full of hope … [Updike] brings his microscopic eye for emotional and physical detail to bear on the life of Hope.… Updike has written extensively about art and artists. On page after page in
Seek My Face
, he demonstrates his understanding of that world and its techniques.”

Chicago Tribune

“The outlines of Hope’s life are gradually filled in with rich, meaningful detail around the framework of her own artistic experiences, her three marriages, and the raising of her three children.… Despite its uncomplicated premise, the novel achieves a remarkable depth of characterization and a glowing beauty in its articulation of the artistic sensibility.”

(starred and boxed review)


Boston Herald

“Powerful … We get Hope whole, an appealing and convincing creation.… Swirled over [his] simple, elegant premise is John Updike’s superabundant prose, dazzling strings of looping sentences that wrap the two women in glittering constellations of words, glorious spurts.… Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this novel is the fact that Mr. Updike has managed to make Hope’s emotional life—her estrangement from her only daughter, her memories of her grandfather—just as compelling as her public, her
, entanglement with various icons of the art world.… Hope is hardly a saint, but she’s led a good life.… It’s the unpacking of this plain truth, and the wonder of it, that is the essence and beauty of
Seek My Face

The New York Observer

“[Updike] writes with such grace, rhythm and sureness that there is an easy temptation simply to swim across page after page, yet there is much of challenging substance for the attentive reader.… Updike’s prose is marked by a quality of infinite attentiveness, using all of the human senses to replicate for the reader what his characters experience.… This new novel is a fugue, a sustained counterpoint between powerfully excited love of life and the profound sadness of mortality.… Updike movingly grasps greatness and its drive, as manifest in Pollock, Warhol and other painters, but in his own accomplishments as well.”

The Baltimore Sun

“Stunningly revealing … The richness of detail has its way with us.… Another new fictional world entered, as Updike himself enters old age, with skills and ambitions very much intact.… Yet another illustration of this adventurous writer’s enduring curiosity, versatility, and stylistic energy.”

Kirkus Reviews
(starred review)

“Especially thoughtful … It’s an imaginative way to relate this history, and Updike asks probing aesthetic questions that range beyond his story.”

Library Journal


Updike is able to not only engage our attention but to compel it, to not only make the women, their conversation and his heroine’s memories vivid and believable but also provocative, comical, touching and ultimately important.… Because of his verbal dexterity, as well as his extraordinary empathy and intelligence, he achieves a poetic subtlety and depth that no biography of the artist, nor the recent, mostly admirable film
, ever approaches.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer

“[A] rewarding new novel from our reigning master of surprise, the last sequence of which is surpassing in its beauty … Updike pushes far beyond his research, transforming his sources into the full life of an extraordinary woman.… The prose sometimes rises to the beautiful, the elegiac, as Hope, under the scrutiny of the young interviewer, looks to her life for meaning.”

San Francisco Chronicle

“Solid and significant … 
Seek My Face
shows the emotional intensity beneath the creative process.… Updike’s craft is everywhere, pulling images from the painter’s world, noting form and, especially, color on Hope’s behalf.… The novel succeeds as a study on the artist’s psyche—and of a perceptive, vital woman whose visions swirl through the pages as they might across a huge canvas.”

The Plain Dealer

“Wonderfully vivid … [Updike] comments knowingly on art movements, the changing role of beauty, the relationship between creators and critics. More poignant are his takes on the fragility and toughness of the elderly, the pain and joy of parenthood and the resilient generation that came of age in the ’40s.… This heroine is wonderfully complex, even while making a potent case against art-world sexism.… Every page glistens with bright description.”


A Ballantine Book
Published by The Random House Publishing Group

Copyright © 2002 by John Updike

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Ballantine Books, an imprint
of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random
House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random
House of Canada Limited, Toronto.

Ballantine and colophon are registered trademarks
of Random House, Inc.

Seek My Face
is a work of fiction. Names, places,
and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination
or are used fictitiously.

Library of Congress Control Number: 2003096515

eISBN: 978-0-307-41659-9

This book published by arrangement with Alfred A. Knopf,
a division of Random House, Inc.


You speak in my heart and say, “Seek my face.”
Your face, Lord, will I seek.

—Psalm 27

Books were still governed by the old rule,
Born of a belief that visible beauty
Is a little mirror for the beauty of being

A Treatise on Poetry

What will our children’s children say
About our art-monsters in future years
When Christian quiet relaxes the nations
And, as in the sunburst of the Renaissance,
Paint shall be gorgeous and, I hope, holy?

Trial of a Poet

This is a work of fiction. Nothing in it is necessarily true. Yet it would be vain to deny that a large number of details come from the admirable, exhaustive
Jackson Pollock: An American Saga
, by Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith (Clarkson N. Potter, 1989), or that some of my fictional artists’ statements are closely derived from those collected in
Abstract Expressionism: Creators and Critics
, an illuminating anthology edited and introduced by Clifford Ross (Harry N. Abrams, 1990).



ET ME BEGIN by reading to you,” says the young woman, her slender, black-clad figure tensely jackknifed on the edge of the easy chair, with its faded coarse plaid and broad arms of orangish varnished oak, which Hope first knew in the Germantown sunroom, her grandfather posed in it reading the newspaper, his head tilted back to gain the benefit of his thick bifocals, more than, yes, seventy years ago, “a statement of yours from the catalogue of your last show, back in 1996.”

As a child Hope would sit in the chair trying to feel what it was like to be an adult, resting her little round elbows on the broad arms, spreading her fingers, a ring of fat between each joint, on the dowel end, which was set in the softly curved arm, a kind of wooden coin with a pale stripe in it, the butt end of the wedge that tightened the dowel. The chair’s arms had been too far apart for her to rest more than one elbow and hand at a time. She must have been—what?—five, six. Even when new, in the ’twenties or ’teens, the chair would have been a homely unfashionable thing, a summer kind of furniture, baking in the many-windowed
sunroom with the potted philodendron and the lopsided hassock, the hassock’s top divided like a pie in long triangular slices of different colors of leather. When her grandmother’s death in the ’fifties had at last broken up the Germantown house, Hope coveted the old chair and, her amused surviving brother making no objection, brought it to Long Island, where it sat upstairs in her so-called studio, where she would sometimes try to read by the north window, the sash leaking wind howling in off Block Island Sound while Zack played jazz records—Armstrong, Benny Goodman, a scratchy Beiderbecke—too loud downstairs; and then to the apartment with Guy and the children on East Seventy-ninth, in the dun-walled back spare room by the radiator that clanked like a demented prisoner while she tried to set her own rhythm with the loaded brush; and then to Vermont, where she and Jerry had bought and renovated and dug in for their last stand in life, a chair transported from muggy Pennsylvania to a colder, higher climate yet hardly incongruous in this plain, prim, low-ceilinged front parlor, the chair’s round front feet resting on the oval rug of braided rags in a spiral, its square back feet on the floorboards painted the shiny black-red of Bing cherries, the browns and greens and thin crimsons of its plaid further fading into one pale tan, here in the sparse blue mountain light of early April. Strange, Hope thought, how things trail us place to place, more loyal than organic friends, who desert us by dying. The Germantown house became overgrown in Grandmother’s lonely last years, its thick sandstone walls eaten to the second-story windowsills by gloomy flourishing shrubbery, hydrangea and holly and a smoke tree whose branches broke in every ice storm or wet snow, the whitewash flaking and the pointing falling out in brittle long crumbs lost down among the stems of the peonies, the
roots of the holly. She had loved living there when so small, but after her parents moved to Ardmore visits back felt strange, the huge droopy-limbed hemlock having grown sinister, the yard with its soft grass smelling heated and still like the air of a greenhouse, the swing that her spry little grandfather, the first person Hope knew ever to die, had hung from the limb of the walnut tree rotting, ropes and board, in an eternally neglected way that frightened her.

BOOK: Seek My Face
11.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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