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Toward the End of Time by John Updike

John Updike has written upwards of 50 books in his lifetime. The Beverly Public Library had nearly all of them on the shelf. What were the chances that I’d choose one that took place in my back yard?

Toward the End of time does take place here on the North Shore of Boston, but not in 2006; rather, in the year 2020. To me that date is one of two interesting themes in the novel. 2020 is no ordinary year. The US is just coming out of a nuclearly devastating war with China. Due to its distance from China, the Northeast is not heavily damaged. So life continues as it had pre-war; mostly.

It was interesting to read Updike’s take on Massachusetts in the future. There were many references to local sites and ‘current’ events. The “Big Dig” even makes an appearance! Since 2020 isn’t that far into the future the predictions were somewhat credible and encouraged my own thoughts about what the next 15 years may hold.

The main story surrounds an aging, retired gentleman (Ben Turnbull) and explores his feelings about how his life is changing. Updike is somewhat ambiguous about whether or not aging is a negative (or positive) thing. Turnbull is reevaluating relationships and activities, beliefs, politics and love. As the title suggests, Turnbull is moving towards the end of time, but maybe not as quickly as he thinks.

I found this to be a very thought provoking novel. I’m curious, though, seeing as Updike has written so many works; did I make a good selection? Have you read other works by Updike? Have you read this one? Are there others that you would recommend? I’d love to know!

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  1. Beth

    I think that Updike lives somewhere around us, because I know he makes guest appearances and lectures in the area – even a book signing once at Gordon. Having a novel set on the N.Shore makes sense. In high school, I read one of Updike’s “Rabbit” books (he has a whole series written on this one character). I suffered through it only because I had to write a paper on it. Rabbit is a car salesman and the books are written as if you’re hearing his thoughts – and it seemed to me that all he thought about is sex. Flash backs to past lovers, fantasies about other women in his life, even a “wife-swap” scene (mind you he’s married and has kids). It sort of scarred me – I was young and in high school, there was a lot in the book that I thought was pretty shocking.

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