‘Couples’

WILFRID SHEED

Published: April 7, 1968

A few years ago, Normal Mailer the critic publicly advised John Updike to keep his foot in the whorehouse door and forget about his damn prose style. At the time this sounded typically elfin, the kind of advice that Norman peddles by the yard or the bucket, but Updike took it anyway, with rather startling results. As occasionally happens, Mailer’s opinion turned out to be a little more sober than it looked.

COUPLES
By John Updike

Updike does, to be sure, take the famous style for several lengthy airings in this new novel, but he keeps it on a strong chain the rest of the time. Also, his whorehouse is some distance from Mailer’s, at times more ethereal, at other times more like the inside of a lab. But such as it is, he undoubtedly keeps his foot in it. This question should probably be gotten over with quickly, because rumor has it that "Couples" is a dirty book. But although Updike does call all the parts and attachments by name, so does the Encyclopaedia Britannica. And if this is a dirty book, I don’t see how sex can be written about at all.

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