Updike: Baby, Can I Blurb You?

Erica Jong

No man, no matter how much we might idealize him, is perfect, not even John Updike in his capacity as a book reviewer.  In the introduction to Picked-Up Pieces (1975) he lists all the hidden allegiances and human frailties that occasionally led him to be less than completely upfront and aboveboard in his reviews: “Here and there filial affection for an older writer has pulled my punch. Fear of reprisal may have forced a grin or two. In a few reprehensible cases I may have dreamed of sleeping with the authoress.”

Which “authoress” did Updike hope to seduce with a rave review? Take a look at the praise he bestowed in that same book upon Erica Jong for her middle-brow sex romp Fear of Flying (1973): “Erica Jong’s first novel feels like a winner. It has class and sass, brightness and bite.” As the review makes clear, Updike spent a lot of time looking at photographs of the young novelist: “On the back jacket flap, Mrs. Jong, with perfect teeth and cascading blond hair, is magnificently laughing, in contrast to the somber portrait that adorns her two collections of poetry.”

(The photograph of Erica Jong and her perfect teeth is taken from the Famous Poets and Poems website).

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