John Updike was a revered old storyteller to all, but to those in Essex County, Massachusetts—the area north of Boston where he lived for 50 years—he was also a well-known lothario. Just ask his neighbors.
Author Roger Warner traveled to Updike's funeral a couple of weeks ago and spoke to some of the local North Shore folks who knew the über-WASP as the friendly regular-fellow-about-town. One former neighbor in particular was very chatty, describing the Couples author as prototypically regular small town East Coast squire:
You'd see him every morning walking in his tattered sweater to his office downtown, saying hello to everybody. You'd see him at town meetings. Very genial. Around here, he did not have an intellectual social life.
Though the kind and plodding Everyman was a bit of an act, the neighbor reminded Warner. After all, Updike was always taking note of everything, always spinning together new, prickly stories in that pointy little head of his. The neighbor remembered that Updike once wrote a story about his mother:
It was accurate, but very cruel. I didn't speak to him for a couple of years.
But that was just the men and the old biddy mothers. When it came to women, Updike was a bit more obtuse, a bit more open. Of Updike's Women, Warner writes:
The ex-neighbor counted the lovers he knew about on his fingers: The clipper-ship heiress who worked at the library. The majestic lady who taught children's choir. The mother of the guy who sat in the pew next to Kim at the memorial service. "And my own first wife," he said with a rueful laugh. "But then we were all fucking everybody else back then, in the Couples era. And so was I. Bad behavior. Very bad behavior. Which doesn't mean I wouldn't do it over again, if I had a chance."
The funeral service was apparently pretty "bland," as stony and whitewashed a New England affair as Updike's world could look from far away. Up close, of course, it was a different story entirely.