Picks and Pans Review: The Coup
Having settled his personal life (by getting a divorce and taking a second wife), Updike seems to have escaped the fixation of his recent novels—battles of the sexes that everyone loses. He has turned to a strange, satirical treatment of a black African dictator. Updike's style is still intoxicating. (A character bites a twig and "Some substratum in the phloem or xylem savored smartly of those little glossy red American candies prevalent in wintertime, that relenting time of winter when the icicles crash from the eaves and the black streets shine with the melting of drifts.") The targets are diffuse, though: flashbacks to the dictator's American education and dopey incursions by U.S. diplomats fill the book. The satire is thudding—a rival leader is beheaded with a scimitar from "the People's Museum of Imperialist Atrocities"—and Updike's knowledge of Africa is limited. Citing a real-life coup in Togo, he misidentifies the participants. Worse is his misuse of the pitiable dictator. This novel, if by an African, could have been pointed. Coming from a white New Englander, it seems mean-spirited and patronizing. (Knopf, $8.95)
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