In the late John Updike’s marvelously intelligent last collection of critical pieces, Higher Gossip, which I am reviewing for Booklist and is to be published in November, the lead piece is entitled “The Writer in Winter.” It was published originally in AARP Magazine. As the title would suggest, the essay is about the conditions unique to writers who have advanced to senior-citizen status. Looking back, Updike posits that he could now appreciate the advantages of having been a young writer, brimming with enthusiasm, material, and energy.
But, alas, so he insists, all that pretty much dries up. And when the drying up occurs, he maintains that creativity is a “matter of sifting the leavings.” Ouch! But, wait, there’s more. “You become playful and theoretical; you invent sequels, and attempt historical novels.” A great lover of historical novels, I naturally arched an eyebrow reading that last line. What is he implying? That writing historical novels is for when your well of creativity is nearly dry, because that is all it takes? That writing historical novels is a retiree activity?
He does not pursue that thought further, leaving me to finally decide that he indeed was not casting aspersions on the genre of historical fiction, but simply saying after a certain age, writers can feel free to pursue avenues of writing they have not tried before.
I hope that’s what he meant.