Seek My Face: A Novel
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John Updike’s twentieth novel, like his first, The Poorhouse Fair, takes place in one day, a day that contains much conversation and some rain. The seventy-nine-year-old painter Hope Chafetz, who in the course of her eventful life has been Hope Ouderkirk, Hope McCoy, and Hope Holloway, answers questions put to her by a New York interviewer named Kathryn, and recapitulates, through stories from her career and many marriages, the triumphant, poignant saga of postwar American art. In the evolving relation between the two women, interviewer and subject move in and out of the roles of daughter and mother, therapist and patient, predator and prey, supplicant and idol. The scene is central Vermont; the time, the early spring of 2001.
interviewer. “Oh, yes. Very much.” Yet the young woman’s enthusiasm lacks the fervor Hope thought the offer deserved: the sorceress’s workshop, the scene of the daily miracle. The farmhouses in northern New England feel like trains, one car linked to another to spare the farmer wading out into the snow. When she and Jerry had bought the place, a collapsing, disused cow barn was connected to the kitchen by means of roofed storage space filled with ten-gallon milk cans and other apparatus for the
brain at risk, he had known from boyhood that he must live by his wits. And he had of course this beautiful ability to compartmentalize. Like most American men, he had an office life and a home life. We were like the sheltered spoiled family of a nineteenth-century sweatshop owner, who didn’t bring any ugly details home. He would spend an evening with me and the boys watching The Andy Griffith Show and then put some Schubert on the hi-fi and play a game of backgammon with me and the next morning
drying. Then it was, as he spoke to his mate with breath still visible as frozen vapor, as if she had done it with him, ripped those imperishable hours from the perishing world. “No more sandwich?” Hope says to Kathryn. She is a bit hurt, being rejected in this trivial particular. “I’ll wrap it in Reynolds Wrap for your drive back. Really, it’s not bad for you, though the marmalade has sugar in it. I’ve lived on nothing else some days up here, when I was snowed in.” “Poor Alec,” the other woman
engenders more quick fantasies—the half-dreams that flutter through a weary mind—of their interpenetration, scorpions in a bottle, this girl invading her with her questions while Hope in turn tries to imagine Kathryn’s intimate life, the sensate creature beneath the oily pubic curls. “So,” the next question comes, “your relationship with Jerome Chafetz began while you were still married to Guy Holloway?” “Yes, several years before, but perfectly properly. Jerry had bought a number of Guy’s
dressed herself in the purple cashmere cloak she came in and deposited on the spindle-back settee. The hood makes her look sinister yet winsome, her long nose jutting now from shadow, her big black purse dangling from a bent forearm. She reflects and decides, “Yes, that I will accept. Thank you.” Again, then, in those noisy boots, she visits the bathroom under the back stairs. In the kitchen, Hope quickly, furtively extracts a medium Ziploc bag from its box in a drawer and, opening the