Thursday, September 22, 2011


The Poorhouse Fair, John Updike, Alfred A Knopf, 1959, 185 pp

I have always confused John Updike and Philip Roth. I don't think they are all that similar, though I can't be sure because I have never read either of them except for this first novel by Updike, read by me in 2002 for I don't know what reason. The confusion must stem from the fact that both writers began publishing in 1959, both were considered disgustingly sex obsessed in their material, and both were the hottest male fiction writers of the day. Anyway, as I wrap up my reading list for 1959 I will be reading Roth's Goodbye, Columbus. As I move on, I will read 4 novels by John Updike and 3 by Philip Roth in the 1960s. That should handle my confusion or maybe not.

Another odd point: here is a second novel in 1959 about the elderly (the first being Muriel Spark's Memento Mori.) Maybe it is a last gasp before the 1960s youth culture takes over.

So yes, The Poorhouse Fair is a day in the life of a state supported "old folks home" as it was called in those days. The residents are there because they are old, have no family left and are penniless. This does not mean they are completely beaten down however; they are a feisty bunch.

A new director has recently taken over the place. His efforts to make improvements have raised the hackles of the elderly residents and they have begun to rebel. It all comes to a head on the day of the eponymous fair.

It is a great story about the personalities of aging people. Right out of the gate, Updike is an amazing writer with deep insight into his characters and the dynamics of a group of people. I look forward to more.

(The Poorhouse Fair is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

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