...she does better at finding poetry in this raw, scrappy colonial world than in populating another installment of her noble and necessary fictional project of exposing the infamies of slavery and the hardships of being African-American. The white characters in A Mercy come to life more readily than the black, and they less ambiguously dramatize America’s discovery and settlement.This is the usual Updike horseshit: finding something to damn with faint praise in A Mercy while undermining Morrison's chronicling of the black experience. "This author’s early novels were breakthroughs into the experience of black Americans as refracted in the poetic and indignant perceptions of a black woman from Lorain, Ohio," he sneers, by which he means to say, that is all she is.
Cranky old John Updike has always used his bully pulpit at The New Yorker to blast popular writers who didn't fit his idea of fiction. As he's gotten older, his hatred of anything he doesn't understand has become commensurately more transparent, earning the ire of Salman Rushdie, Tom Wolfe, and David Foster Wallace. And when you use that power to throw both Toni Morrison and William Faulkner under the bus in that magazine while making sure to say that you find her white characters the most convincing, we have a problem with you, you old bastard.In 1975 Anatole Broyard wrote in The New York Times that as a critic, John Updike was "too kind." In the years since he seems to have taken that diss to heart, relentlessly smearing even the most slightly ambitious work that's not in his preferred, realistic style...of men who only think about sex. He starts off this truly wretched review in this week's New Yorker with the following bon mot/machete, "Toni Morrison has a habit, perhaps traceable to the pernicious influence of William Faulkner, of plunging into the narrative before the reader has a clue to what is going on." This is nothing new for Updike — as his prose has gotten more journalistic and dull over time, his level of tolerance for more exciting stylists is inversely proportional to his own ineptitude, and he's made many enemies. (Salman Rushdie once said after Updike criticized how he named his characters, "Why not? Somewhere in Las Vegas there's a male prostitute named John Updike.") He needs to take a cue from the man who said, "Try to understand what the author wished to do, and do not blame him for not achieving what he did not attempt." That of course was John Updike, more than three decades ago. The 76-year-old Updike pretends to be more politic before throwing Morrison under the bus, as if it were impossible to know exactly what he thinks of A Mercy. Ironically, his language becomes more circular and winding than Morrison as he puts her down in the most condescending fashion possible. Does he know how transparently pathetic he sounds?