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The Centaur [Paperback]

John Updike
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 1 1988
In a small Pennsylvania town in the late 1940s, schoolteacher George Caldwell yearns to find some meaning in his life. Alone with his teenage son for three days in a blizzard, Caldwell sees his son grow and change as he himself begins to lose touch with his life. Interwoven with the myth of Chiron, the noblest centaur, and his own relationship to Prometheus, "The Centaur" is one of John Updike's most brilliant and unusual novels.
--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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“A triumph of love and art.”—The Washington Post
“A brilliant achievement . . . No one should need to be told that Updike has a mastery of language matched in our time only by the finest poets.”—Saturday Review
“Unsurpassed . . . Natural, pertinent, fresh, subtle, and superbly written.”—Newsweek --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

From the Back Cover

"A Triumph Of Love And Art."

-- The Washington Post

"A brilliant achievement...No one should need to be told that Updike has a mastery of the language matched in our time only by the finest poets."

-- Saturday Review

"A brilliant and moving novel."

-- The Baltimore Sun

"Unsurpassed...Natural, pertinent, fresh, subtle, and superbly written."

-- Newsweek

"A classic...A beautiful and memorable book."

-- The Critic --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars stunning, stellar, haunting April 14 2004
By A Customer
To say a book is not worth anything simply because modern readers won't be familiar with Greek myths is yet again an indication that the majority of people are imbeciles. If you aren't familiar, get familiar! Dig deeper than most commercial fiction allows. That's the wonderful thing about literature, in particular Updike. You can read this book and not know anything about Greek myths, and it still will be an amazing read. (I normally don't get sad while reading; but one sentence in particular in this book - one sentence! - almost brought me to tears.) If you happen to know Greek mythology, then the underlying symbolism in the novel will have meaning for you beyond the sheer emotion presented in the story.
As a whole, this is a wonderful, complicated book, one I plan on rereading as much as time (and other books) allow.
Also, seriously: yet again, this is proof for me that certain books (i.e. literature) cannot be listened to on tape. There is something within the optical structure of a novel that adds even more depth to the story. There is a reason a paragraph begins and end; a reason why something is in italics, or point-of-view switches from first to third. You lose all that when you listen to it. Try reading it, and maybe you'll see what I'm talking about.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Updike's most compassionate and complex book Aug. 24 2003
By Andrew
I'm a big fan of Updike--his Rabbit novels, especially--but I' still convinced that this is his best book.
The story concerns three days in the lives of George and Peter Caldwell, two residents of fictional Olinger, Pennsylvania. George is a high school science teacher, an endlessly compassionate man who is cursed with dangerously low self-esteem. Peter is his son, a developing artist who simultaneously loves and is exasperated with his father.
Interwoven with their story is the story of Chiron, "the noblest Centaur." Chiron's existence is one of suffering, due to a fatal wound he recieved at the hands of Hercules. Because of this affliction, he willingly gives up his life to save Prometheus, who is being punished by Zeus for the theft of fire. Throughout the course of the novel, it becomes apparent that George Caldwell is Chiron, a hero who suffers that those around him might live, and that Peter is Prometheus, an impetuous youth who dares to touch the face of God.
All of these elements combine wonderfully to create one of Updike's best, most compassionate, most complex, and most personal works. It's got all the humanity and spiritual yearning of ROGER'S VERSION or the Rabbit novels, but it's also got something those books don't: hope.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Lovely stuff May 18 2002
I thought that this was a beautifully-written novel, a delight to read. It's the story of a few days in the lives of the teacher George Caldwell and his teenage son, Peter.
Caldwell is struggling with middle-age burn-out, and Peter is at the age when his love for his father is mixed with feelings of rebellion (and embarrassment at his father's increasing eccentricities). Updike concentrates on the feelings of both George and Peter, but as the story unfolds, Peter's view of the world comes to dominate the narrative, and I felt that I was really seeing things through the eyes of a teenager and sharing his feelings.
That Updike could pull this off is a measure of how good a writer he is when at his best: in particular, his eye for detail and the everyday nuances of daily life are excellent.
I'm not that versed in Greek mythology, and the parts of the novel devoted to this are relatively short, so it shouldn't deter prospective readers. I suppose that quite how the mythological parts relate to the characters is up to each reader to decide - rather than put foward my impression, I'll refrain. Each to his/her own opinion!
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4.0 out of 5 stars Modern day metaphor of the Chiron legend Dec 23 2001
The Greek mythology interspersed throughout this book is a small but seemingly important factor. The protagonist, Caldwell/Chiron is a teacher of high school students in 1940s East Coast. Caldwell is an obsequious and self-hating man that feels totally inadequate in life - however, he is a goodhearted man that means well. Caldwell, like the famous centaur, Chiron, is a noble teacher that lacks the command and respect that a good person deserves. The book starts with Caldwell being shot in the foot with an arrow that one of his students shot into his foot (the same way in which Chiron is killed in Greek mythology.) Caldwell and his son Peter/Prometheus are connected for a three-day period after car trouble and a blizzard. The book is mostly narrated from Peter's viewpoint, and you sense the boy/students frustration with his father/teacher and his lack of self-esteem.
Peter dotes over his father during this bonding period, as his father prepares for death and his lack of will to live. Symbolically I believe that the father figure is immortal in a son's eyes, and just as Chiron prepares for death as an immortal, the father figure must also prepare for a type of death when the son comes of age as a young adult. The story slowly evolves to being a modern day metaphor of the Chiron legend.
I wish I knew more about Greek mythology to truly appreciate this book. Even though my amateurish knowledge limited my understanding of the symbolism, I still truly enjoyed the book and Updike's incredible ability to write. I recommend the book and also recommend having a basic understanding of the Chiron legend to really appreciate the book.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars two worlds combined
a fascinating technique employed by updike where he combines two diiferent worlds to deliver a poignant story
Published on Jan. 18 2004 by William D. Tompkins
1.0 out of 5 stars Keep mythology for the Greeks
I listened to this book as a Book on Tape. Although it was well read, it was very difficult to follow as the narration jumped from past to present (to what from some perspectives... Read more
Published on Nov. 3 2003
2.0 out of 5 stars disappointed
I was given a list of books to choose from for a project in my high school sophmore honors english class and this book was on it. Read more
Published on May 25 2003
4.0 out of 5 stars Good book, but least favorite Updike I've read.
Well, my title says it all. I liked it, but it lacked the power of the "Rabbit" series, the humor of "Witches of Eastwick" and "Bech, a Book". Read more
Published on March 11 2001
5.0 out of 5 stars Bittersweet and precise
Now, normally I read science fiction, it's the bread and butter that I grew up on and I still love reading old and new SF. Read more
Published on Oct. 2 2000 by Michael Battaglia
4.0 out of 5 stars More Modernist Than Modest
Here is the work of an early genius. The Centaur (Updike's third novel) has something of the seriousness of The Poorhouse Fair and Rabbit, Run (his first and second), although it... Read more
Published on Sept. 5 2000 by Tom Adair
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book
This wonderful book explores the awkward transitional state of adolescence and the paranoia and disillusionment of middle age with the masterful metaphors that make Updike so... Read more
Published on Aug. 27 2000 by 3baddogs
5.0 out of 5 stars Boadening Horizons
_The Centaur_ is an excellent choice of reading for anyone trying to expand their horizons. In _The Centaur_, John Updike masterfully weaves a 1945 small town, Olinger, and the... Read more
Published on May 4 2000 by Jason
5.0 out of 5 stars better than the last fifteen books you read
This is perhaps my favorite Updike novel. The pathos and love of the relationship between Mr. Caldwell and his son Peter is the best writing of a father-son relationship i have... Read more
Published on April 8 2000 by scott gates
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