Friday, 12 November 2010

Marry Me, John

Last night behind the bar, thinking of absent friends and listening to this...

While reading the opening pages of John Updike's Marry Me, a chapter called 'Warm Wine'...

And feeling the nearness of something, like faraway friends weren't all that far after all. And also that this may be one of the most underappreciated openings of a novel by a major writer. Does anyone talk about this book anymore? Updike apparently started it soon after Rabbit, Run, but then Couples took over and it ended up languishing until the end of the Sixties. And, so far, anyway, I greatly prefer it to the latter book. If Couples was Updike's woozy attempt at Joycean Wandering Rocks, then here in the very first pages (at last) is his Howth's Head. There's a restraint here, or perhaps a Hemingway-like rootedness, firmly anchored in the drama of the moment rather than streams-of-consciousness. (It also made me wonder how Updike could be so unfashionable at a time when everyone is gaga over Mad Men).

There was something that really touched me, grabbed me, moved me, anyway about this couple's assignation on a beach. I'm not sure why. But it certainly had something to do with the way Updike can write from the body and, at the same time, uncover something like transcendence in amidst the purely physical, the things of this world.

Yes yes, the touch, the touch of their skins the length of their bodies in the air, under the sun. The sun made his closed eyes swim in red; her side and upward shoulder warmed and her mouth gradually melted. The felt no hurry; this was perhaps the gravest proof that they were, Jerry and Sally, the original man and woman--that they felt no hurry, that they did not so much excite each other as put the man and woman in each other to rest. Their bodies sought with the gradualness of actual growth to enlarge and refine their fit. Her loose hair drifted strand by strand onto his face. The sense of rest, of having arrived at the long-promised calm centre, filled him like a species of sleep even as his insteps tightened upward into the arches of her feet: 'It's incredible,' he said. He turned his face upwards, to merge her with the sun. Red flooded his lids.

Photo by jja_bra
She spoke with her lips against his neck, where a shadow was gritty and cool. He felt this, though it was her sensation. 'It's worth it,' she said, 'is what's surprising. It's worth it, all the waiting, all the obstacles, all the lying and hurrying, and then when you reach it, it's worth it.' Her voice grew progressively small pronouncing this.

He experimentally opened his eyes and was blinded by a perfectly hard circle smaller than the moon. 'Do you mind,' he asked, 'his lids clamped on a pulsing violet echo, 'the pain we're going to cause.'

As if he had dropped a chemical, the stillness of her body against his changed quality. Her curved feet lifted from his. 'Hey,' she said. 'What about the wine? It'll get warm.'

...As he kneeled at her feet to pull off the lower of the two pieces of her yellow bathing suit, he was reminded, unexpectedly of shoe salesmen; as a child he had worried about these men who made a career of kneeling and tugging at other people's feet, and had wondered why they did not appear to be demeaned by it.

Picture by Shelbie Dimond
...Her face, freckled, rapt, the upper lip perspiring in the sun and lifted so her front teeth glinted, seemed a mirror held inches below his own face, a misted mirror more than another person. He asked himself who this was and then remembered, Why, it's Sally! He closed his eyes and fitted his breathing into her soft exclamatory sighing. When this had ebbed into regular breathing, he said, 'It's better outdoors, isn't it? You get more oxygen.'

He felt her rapid little nodding flutter on his shoulder.

'Now leave me?' she said.

...Almost lazily, she kneeled against him and flattened her body to his and encircled his back with her arms. Her shoulder tasted warm; his lips moved on her skin. 'Baby, I can't swing it,' he said, and the flutter of her nodding made thier bodies vibrate together. I know. I know.

Hey? Jerry? Over your shoulder I can see the Sound, and there's a little sailboat, and some town far off, and the waves are coming in to the rocks, and it's so sunny, and just so beautiful? No Don't turn your head. Believe me.'

This one's mine

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