The connection between sex and death is John Updike’s great subject. It’s quite complicated, this connection, in the Updike world. It’s not just that sex is deadly, for example, or death sexy. For Updike, sex involves both acknowledgement of ageing and the attempt to transcend it. He’s obsessed with the ways in which we try to get beyond the limits that shape our lives: the limits that are our fraying skins, the limits that are marriages.
It’s this perpetual search for transcendence that his novels are really about, not the bright references to contemporary America they make. Even in the soapy Rabbit books it’s the central subject, as Rabbit himself recognizes dimly. ‘Help me, guys. Tell me how you’ve got on top of sex and death