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Book Review: "Of the Farm" by John Updike

by Annie Kapur about a month ago in literature
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5/5 - extreme levels of character development...

There are a number of things that John Updike is known for but writing shorter fiction is normally not one of them. The Rabbit Series is one of America's most famous pieces of literature of the 20th century and the entire aspect of Updike's fiction and the changing notion of what it means to be 'American' is explored in depth and fantastically within. Recently, I have read Updike's book Licks of Love and I was really quite surprised to see that his shorter fiction is just as good as his longer stuff. John Updike is clearly a man of range and has a strange way of making something that does not seem like a story, a complete narrative. This is what I am getting at when I talk about Of the Farm.

Joey is one of those clearly Updike characters. He is discontented, he feels like he's 'left something behind' and, when he returns to his past, he does not seem to like the look of it. When he visits his mother who lives on a run-down farm, the Manhattan in Joey is finally put to the test. He left for a reason. He arrives with his new, second wife, Peggy and her slightly emotionally distant son, Richard - who is about eleven years' old. Joey is put more to the test when he is locked between the guilt of leaving his mother in this sort of area and having to settly his new wife down because she's going slightly off the rails with judgement.

One thing about this novel that I really enjoyed is the character development of Joey. One moment everything on the farm can seem perfectly fine and yet, he is still nervous as if it should not be fine at all. As if everything is going 'too well'. The next moment he's losing it about lawn mowing and how his mother is pretty petty when it comes to everyday arguments. Both being irritable, their personalities clash in the worst of ways.

We also learn of Joan. The first wife of Joey. The divorce went ahead and Joan left for Canada with their son, Charlie. This is one of the reasons that Joey is trying to get close to Richard, but it fails almost every time. It is also the reason that Joey's mother blames him for her not being able to see the loveable Charlie either. The child lives in Canada - too far for an ailing old woman to travel. Part of the character development here is that Joey is more than often portrayed as a 'layabout' who cannot make relationships work because he is self-centred and even his 'trying' can be pretty pathetic. It's almost comical and I really enjoyed evaluating how this is set against other characters - most importantly, Richard.

At the heart of the novel is a son that cannot leave his mother behind. She has health problems and can no longer live by herself and yet, she cannot bring herself to leave the farm. Her adoration for her new step-grandson, Richard is something that really brings out the 'nice older lady' in her when she isn't arguing with her son and when he isn't assessing the moral oddities of his new wife. Richard is probably one of the characters that ends up grasping the hearts and minds of most of the readership. This is because he is genuinely interested in things that usually, you would not expect children to be interested in: farmwork is one of them.

All in all, though it isn't plot heavy, this book has been a joy to read of Updike's and I think that for now, it is one of his better novels that is also pretty short.

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About the author

Annie Kapur

Film and Writing (M.A)

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IG: @AnnieApproximately

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