Picks and Pans Review: Toward the End of Time
Toward the End of Time could be classified as science fiction. The science is a layman's grasp of quantum physics, which allows, in theory, for the possible existence of parallel universes. The fiction centers on Ben Turnbull, a retired financial counselor reporting to us from the year 2020, "a jeering staring number that once denoted perfect eyesight." The United States has fought a devastating nuclear war with China. The American dollar is worthless; the new currency is called "welders" (after an ambitious Massachusetts governor from the 20th century). Crime bosses do the work of the government. But our golf-playing, sex-minded narrator thinks he has his priorities straight. "One advantage of the collapse of civilization," he says, "is that the quality of young women who are becoming whores has gone way up." When Ben's wife nags him to shoot the deer poaching on their property, he does so, and the animal instantly morphs into his new mistress. Her name, oh dear, is Deirdre.
Even at his least inspired, Updike offers the compensation of an unbeatable prose style. A good example comes in the book's first paragraph, which ends with an apt image for the theme of mental exhaustion in a decaying world: A snowy morning is likened to "a fresh meal brightly served in a hospital to a patient with a dwindling appetite." After so precise a simile, the rest of the book may seem like a superfluous extravagance(Knopf, $25)
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