A place can change a person over time; and most particularly the sort of place, I would suppose, where one would not wish to live for fear of finding that your home had been bombed into a tall heap of rubble after you had returned from five days in a small village where gunfire took place only in nightmares.
There are many ways to look at some problems, but only a few ways to look at others; and one of the most difficult problems of all is how, in practice, you can tell the difference between the two. There then can come a time when every day following upon day seems like a mere rehearsal, and nothing can be decided upon as to what to retain or what to exclude. . . . But suppose time is a factor, as it always is in the end, what would you do in this case? Start being selective, of course. And survival of the fittest notions then ensues, otherwise known as debate among the theorists and law-makers who are, unfortunately for the rest of us, the people who see time as a renewable commodity. Theological time may be eternal, and the measurement of finite time capable of near infinite reductive precision; but human time is only thought of in seconds, minutes, and hours; days, weeks, months, years; centuries. Or considered by scientists in terms of several billions of years, or mega parsecs. If Space curves, must Time curve as well? Would Einstein have insisted that it must? Curve back upon itself?
We trick ourselves into thinking that we have static visual models of the infinity of time. But, what are these, really? A ticking pocket-watch, an hour-glass, a sun-dial? . . . or an atomic clock flanked by a large main-frame computer? What’s the difference, apart from money and technology? All these devices were equally ostentatious and believed to be perfectly functional during their separate . . . histories.
It’s curious that baseball is one of the few professional field sports left which is conducted without a clock. Perhaps that’s just one reason men have so often chosen to write about baseball. The largest field sport of all, golf, can be a spectator sport for a leisurely crowd who lead the West’s lasting goal of a comfortable, productive, and social, interesting life. An expansive, immaculate, 36-hole golf course is the very symbol of the United States—green encompassing acres, the most prestigious of these owned by corporations rather than municipalities.
The strolling denizens of these vast expanses of lawn and trees are precisely the ones whom Richard Yate’s characters in Revolutionary Road disdain, their deepest fears revolving around a waking nightmare of becoming just like one of them, one of the golfing enthusiasts. This very same crowd might have included, at infrequent intervals, Harry Angstrom, the enduring fellow with natural wit whom John Updike re-introduced to the reading public on three more occasions after his first appearance in Rabbit, Run. These two authors have very detailed ways of looking at this sort of individual, a middle-class man or a woman, yet the two visions do not often coincide. I haven’t read either author in several years; and since I don’t trust my memory to make suitable and accurate comparisons here, I won’t make a lame attempt to do so now. But I do know my own sense of their fundamental qualities and differences as novelists, and some of their more embedded beliefs.
Once a literary critic had compared Updike’s prose to music which issued from a magic flute. His style alone has been a matter of interest for years, as it changed over time from one brief era to the next, although for the most part he sustained his underlying style throughout all of the Harry (Rabbit) Angstrom novels. There was the initial period of his career, in his early twenties when he composed clever allegories draped in a contemporary style of naturalism, in which he deployed unusual words now and again like endomorph, these fashionable among the faster literary crowds in New York City.
An even starker comparison can be made between the subject frequently found in Updike’s books, that agreeable fellow who manages to make good as he is ushered along to the varying cadences of the artistic musical prose of his creator, Updike, with the dark, brooding, death-obsessed visions of Cormac McCarthy whose characters’ experiences, which in his later books take place within a barren southwest lanscape stretching from Mexico into the United States, are almost as alien and distant from the physical comforts of the previous two authors’ sets of protagonists as Mars is from the Earth.
One of McCarthy’s earliest novels which found its way into print was The Orchard Keeper. His writing in this book powerfully invokes a strong and immediate sense of immersion in the forests and heavy foliage of the hill-country outside of Knoxville, Tennessee. In his much longer subsequent work, Suttree, McCarthy remains within Knoxville or along its outskirts, and starts the book off in a county prison where the eponymous main character had to remain for a few weeks. The temperaments and preoccupations of Updike and McCarthy are profoundly different, as different as the city is from the countryside.