- The Washington Times - Friday, January 30, 2009

The passing of John Updike — novelist, poet, critic, essayist — is a grievous loss to the world of letters. He’s rightly celebrated for his “Rabbit” novels. Looming large, too, in the Updike oeuvre is the writer character Henry Bech: not a direct alter ego so much as Mr. Updike’s composite of midcentury Jewish greats such as Philip Roth and Norman Mailer. Still, as a New York Times obituarist noted, the character was sufficiently unlike Mr. Updike to qualify as his “opposite.”

1. Chaucer — The literary convention of using a “second self” began pretty much at the beginning, with Geoffrey Chaucer’s Chaucer the pilgrim character in the 14th-century prototype “The Canterbury Tales.”

2. Nathan Zuckerman — He was not Philip Roth’s only alter ego (there was David Kepesh, too, and the character Philip Roth of “Operation Shylock”) just his most famous.

3. Henry Miller — A character by this familiar name turned up in several Miller novels, including the notorious “Tropic of Cancer,” but he was not a singular enough entity for literary scholars and critics to know where the writer ended and the character began.

4. Paul Auster — In a series of mid-‘80s novels known as the “New York Trilogy,” Mr. Auster explored the complexity of identity. Inserting the character Paul Auster sure helped.

5. Every Saul Bellow protagonist — Mr. Updike opined dryly in a review of 1982’s “The Dean’s December” that the good news was the book was “written by Saul Bellow.” The bad news: “It’s about Saul Bellow.”

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