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Poorhouse Fair Paperback

3.9 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: PENGUIN
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141188480
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141188485
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1 x 19.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 141 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars 7 customer reviews
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First Sentence
"WHAT'S THIS?" "What's what?" "Why, look." In the cool wash of early sun the individual strands of osier compounding the chairs stood out sharply; arched like separate serpents springing up and turning again into the knit of the wickerwork. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

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Format: Mass Market Paperback
John Updike's first novel takes place at a home for the elderly (the poorhouse). Published in 1958, the novel takes place in the near-future and chronicles the struggle between the elderly "inmates" of the poorhouse and the new director, Connors. Connor is a relatively young man, and he's hated by the poorhouse residents, especially when compared to the previous director, the loveable Mendellsohn. This hatred seems to stem from mutual distrust and miscommunication.
The action takes place on the day of the annual fair, when the residents sell crafts and other goods to the local townspeople. The fair has always been the residents favorite day, although a burden they simultaneously resent. When the fair goes less then well, the residents revolt, albeit in rather passive ways, against their new leader, further delineating the lines between them.
Updike's greatest asset as a writer has always been his love of language and that gift is present even here, his first novel. Unfortunately, the novel lacks the stronger narrative drive he subsequently developed in novels such as the Rabbit series. At times, the novel is confusing and almost free-form in nature. This situation is particularly pronounced in the final third, when the townspeople converge on the poorhouse, introducing a multitude of new characters and stories.
Although brilliantly written, the novel is sluggish at times. At less than 200 pages, it nevertheless took me a relatively long time to struggle through. In the end, I appreciated many qualities of the book, but frankly I didn't really enjoy it. Recommended primarily for Updike completists.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
I read this book about 15 years ago and just finished rereading it tonight. Have to say it has as much mystery and meaning as Melville, although the dialogue at the end got to be confusing and exasperating. Did I miss something big here? Regardless of some of my frustration with the confusing dialogue and shifting scenes, this book shows an author who is so good he understands the dynamics of growing old - before he even approaches old age. A real power struggle also is at play here between young and old and is one that doesn't seem to get resolved at the end. The author certainly shows his genious not just through description and dialogue - traits that bloom with his later works - but also with his discussion of past presidents as well as God - a theme that pleasantly revererates through his work. Found Hook's and Conner's dialogue about God and faith as a sort of preview for the debate of this subject in a later work - Roger's Version. Not one of his easiest books, by any means, but probably a good intro to his overall work.
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
No, just kidding. I don't hate him; I'm thankful that he's still with us and sharing his words.
In his first novel, we see John Updike about to bloom unto a wonderful writer and most of his themes are here in this slim book: growing old, facing death, thinking about Man and God. I should be able to delve deeper into the themes but I don't read for grand themes, frankly. I read Saul Bellow for the comedy of intellectuals struggling with daily life; I read Iris Murdoch to be among smart folks who seem so damned dumb; and I read Philip Roth for the jolt of the smut from people who should be nicer and holier. That said, I read Updike for the gorgeous language and his mission to catalog the world he sees, like some monk on a mission. Nature is gift to show us how small we are and Updike is here to record everything that catches his gleeming eye.
'The Poorhouse Fair' at first feels like a trifle but it expands after you put the book down. Not to be a jerk, but after reading this book I felt I was watching a commercial for a paper towel expanding, gaining heft and becoming richer after being dipped in a glass of water. Silly, but that's how I feel. Read The Poorhouse Fair, put it down and then read 'Of the Farm' and then get cracking on the Rabbit novels. When you're done with those, we'll talk about 'Couples', and 'Towards the End of Time', and ...
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Format: Mass Market Paperback
A futuristic novel (first published, I think, in 1959) set in an old people's home. I thought that it didn't work well as a futuristic novel - not surprising seeing as I was reading it in 2002. Rather, its main interests for me were in Updike's examination of the difficulties caused by the different world views and attitudes of the characters: the old people; the "prefect" Connor (and his young assistant); and the visitors to the fair.
The tensions between the old people and Connor are reminiscent of Ken Kesey's "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (which was written later than this novel?), in that rebellion against authority is bubbling away all the time. Yet the real joy of the novel for me was the differt interpretations of the meaning of life and of the possibility of an afterlife: one passage in which a younger person cannot comprehend that one of the old women has dispensed with any concept of the utility or value of money, as she is so near death, was particularly thought-provoking.
Worth a read.
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