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Updike-Mailer-Irving-Wolfe: Blood in the lit giants' eyes?

On Books

November 19, 2000|By Michael Pakenham

So, in that case, I asked, what is the future of the American novel?

"Tom Wolfe," Updike cited him again, "and Norman Mailer before him -- they were putting down the novel as an obsolete device, to be replaced by journalism in one form or another, by the real. I would only cling to the notion that there is a kind of reality that you can get into a piece of fiction that you can't get into anything else, however confessional, or reportorial."

A difference, yes. But so much for battle.

Updike did not convince me that one of these two visions of the novel form is absolute. On other occasions, I have spent a good deal more time listening to Wolfe. Today, I am as certain as I can be that Updike's fundamental civility and devotion to the pursuit of truth are no less -- or more -- complete than Wolfe's.

I'm not ducking this issue. I just don't think there's an easy answer. If this be pusillanimity, make the most of it.

As a reader, I am very grateful they both -- they all -- are doing precisely what they do.

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