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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Last Laugh,

Centaur by John Updike

0 of 4 people found the following review helpful:

September 10, 2004

[Contains spoilers, please do not read this if you don't want to know about the ending of the book!]

I was just about to write about how I didn't understand how Peter was Prometheus, but now I get it! He's in pain because of the psoriasis and having to look after his father through the three days and before that as well. Although I have to admit, George isn't really "sacrificing" himself and his death isn't going to take any pain from Peter, if anything, it will add to it. So at this point I have to say the metaphor to the mythology is a bit strained.

This book wasn't really what I expected and in this case that was a bad thing. The first 25 or so pages were very bewildering and hard for me to swallow as a reader. He gets shot with an arrow in the foot and not only to the kids delight in this (I think most of us would be freaked out to see our teacher dripping blood all over the place) but the principal takes no action at all? Did the student have to kill him before something was done? I guess the defense was that Zimmerman is a jerk and George is too much of a wimp to go over his head to the school board, but in an era of school shootings and metal detectors I suppose this just doesn't seem as real as maybe it was back in 1947, or 1962 when the book was written. Again, though, I think this was just straining to make the story fit the myth.

Anyway, after that is a series of tense/POV shifts from 1st-person past tense to 3rd-person omniscient present tense, then an obituary, and then more 1st-person and 3rd-person. It got a little disorienting for me as the reader.

I liked George and Peter once the story got past that first 25 pages and the interaction between them was well-done. The teenage son embarrassed about his dorky parent is well-worn in the sitcom realm, but in this case it didn't come off as stereotypical or stale. The descriptions got a little tedious at times, but I always admire Updike's writing prose and his ability to make the smallest details come to life in an interesting way.

I wish I did know ancient Greek so I would know the last lines, but it's probably not too important to know. Still, as a writer, isn't that a little insulting to your audience?

On the whole, this was an interesting book, but it strains too much to compare to the myth. This was a good story on its own, without the Greek mythology shoehorned in. I do feel better now that I finally get it, it's like when someone tells a joke and you finally understand the punchline hours later. What a relief!

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