Book Review: "Seek My Face" by John Updike
4/5 - Updike's strangest novel in my opinion...
When I started reading John Updike novels, I was in my teens. I read the Rabbit Series and then, into my twenties, I kind of gave him up purely because I did not want to ruin the magic that was the Rabbit Series, thinking that nothing else he wrote would live up to that. However, as of recent, I have been rekindled with the works of John Updike for a very strange reason: he was near Anne Tyler in the library and they ran out of her novels so I went for something that looked somewhere in the ballpark. I had heard of Updike before and I had read some of his stuff before too - so I was sure as I waited for more Anne Tyler that I would be entertained. One of those books was called Seek My Face.
I was quite surprised at this novel because it was different to other books I had read by Updike. First and foremost, there were the characters. Kathryn interviews a woman called Hope. Kathryn seems to be this half-realistic and half-stereotypical version of the 'working woman' in the sense that she is serious about her job, but also has this intense level of emotion that no human actually displays to another human being - almost caricature-like in nature. That could be done on purpose, I don't know. What I do know is that it takes away from some of the aspects of Kathryn's character in the notion that she is the interviewer, the person asking the questions, the one who seeks out information.
I found the character of Hope to be slightly better written in the sense that she is meant to be this strange yet wise old woman, at almost eighty years' old she has a lot to say, especially about love. One of the main things she talks about is her marriage to a painter. She has this intense focus on art and how art came to change the entire face of America in the post-war days. She seems to have lived through this and yet, still stayed somewhat on the outside. Almost like a cross between Freida Kahlo and Edie Sedgewick in the sense that she was within the art and holding the change in her hands, but she was also used by those around her in bad ways that left her with regret and scarring.
When it comes to the plot, it is classic Updike. There is no plot. It is a discussion, a mutual interest of artists and love that comes across in the women talking to each other, the interview structure portrayed as the ultimate window into the soul of the American art culture of bohemians and backstabbers. There are a lot of interesting side characters that are mentioned for certain amounts of time, but there are few characters more intriguing than Hope herself. She answers all of Kathryn's questions and yet, there are so many things we are left without, so many questions we want to ask as readers which will never be answered.
And there's this line that I thought I'd share because it's so perfectly written:
The live wet breath of the rain, the sound and stir of it in the dark, the glimpse by doorlight of its vertical rods sparkling with reflections, its towering presence stretching up out of sight into the darkness from which it falls: the beast confronts the two women. The lamps of the living room reveal only a few strides of dead lawn, plus the spangled tops of the bushes planted close to the house, soaked white spiderwebs spread on the flat-cut yew like doilies on a table.
In conclusion, a book of many shades, this novel was something completely different of Updike - both strange and refreshing.