When historian Alfred “Alf” Clayton is invited by an academic journal to record his impressions of the Gerald R. Ford Administration (1974–77), he recalls not the political events of the time but rather a turbulent period of his own sexual past. Alf’s highly idiosyncratic contribution to Retrospect consists not only of reams of unbuttoned personal history but also of pages from an unpublished project of the time, a chronicle of the presidency of James Buchanan (1857–61). The alternating texts mirror each other and tell a story in counterpoint, a frequently hilarious comedy of manners contrasting the erotic etiquette and social dictions of antebellum Washington with those of late-twentieth-century southern New Hampshire. Alf’s style is Nabokovian. His obsessions are vintage Updike.
About the Author
John Updike was born in 1932, in Shillington, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Harvard College in 1954, and spent a year in Oxford, England, at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art. From 1955 to 1957 he was a member of the staff of The New Yorker, and since 1957 has lived in Massachusetts. He is the author of fifty-odd previous books, including twenty novels and numerous collections of short stories, poems, and criticism. His fiction has won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the American Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Rosenthal Award, and the Howells Medal.
“Quintessential Updike . . . [a] comic and melancholy reflection on politics and passion.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Updike has the ability to evoke the micro-epochs that fascinate us. He can bring to life what seem to those of us who have lived them the vital differences between the decades of our lives.”—Chicago Tribune
“Compelling . . . Alf’s life and times are light and funny; Buchanan’s are dark and serious. Alternating between the two, Mr. Updike entertains and instructs . . . in gorgeous prose.”—The Wall Street Journal