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Memories of the Ford Administration Paperback – 31 Mar 1994

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Product details

  • Paperback: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; New edition edition (31 Mar. 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140178589
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140178586
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 2.2 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 185,770 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

John Updike was born in 1932 in Shillington, Pennsylvania. He attended Shillington High School, Harvard College and the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art at Oxford, where he spent a year on a Knox Fellowship. From 1955 to 1957 he was a member of the staff of the New Yorker, to which he contributed numerous poems, short stories, essays and book reviews. After 1957 he lived in Massachusetts until his death.

John Updike's first novel, The Poorhouse Fair, was published in 1959. It was followed by Rabbit, Run, the first volume of what have become known as the Rabbit books, which John Banville described as 'one of the finest literary achievements to have come out of the US since the war'. Rabbit is Rich (1981) and Rabbit at Rest (1990) were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Other novels by John Updike include Marry Me, The Witches of Eastwick, which was made into a major feature film, Memories of the Ford Administration, Brazil, In the Beauty of the Lilies, Toward the End of Time and Villages. He has written a number of volumes of short stories, and a selection entitled Forty Stories, taken from The Same Door, Pigeon Feathers, The Music School and Museums and Women, is published in Penguin, as is the highly acclaimed The Afterlife and Other Stories. His criticism and his essays, which first appeared in magazines such as The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books, have been collected in five volumes. Golf Dreams, a collection of his writings on golf, has also been published. His Collected Poems 1953-1993 brings together almost all the poems from five previous volumes, including 'Hoping for a Hoopoe', 'Telephone Poles' and 'Tossing and Turning', as well as seventy poems previously unpublished in book form. The last books of his to be published by Hamish Hamilton were My Father's Tears and Other Stories, and Endpoint and Other Poems. He died in January 2009.

Product Description


"An Engrossingly Clever Novel About Sex And The Presidency." -- Nicholas Von Hoffman "Quintessential Updike...[A] comic and melancholy reflection on politics and passion." -- The New York Times Book Review "Compelling...Alf's life and times are light and funny; Buchanan's are dark and serious. Alternating between the two, Mr. Updike entertains and gorgeous prose." -- The Wall Street Journal

About the Author

John Updike author of Rabbit, Run and other celebrated works, is a preeminent American novelist, short story writer, essayist, and poet. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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By Dave Gilmour's cat on 2 Oct. 2010
Format: Kindle Edition
Historian/teacher Alf Clayton offers his idiosyncratic response to a national survey requesting "memories and impressions" of the administration of Gerald Ford. His very personal response makes up this novel.

It's dazzling stuff. Clayton blends (often idealized) recollections of the Ford years (and their looser morality in terms of his relationships during that era) with excerpts from his unfinished book about James Buchanan (US president 1857-1861). Sounds dull? In fact, it's extremely compelling.

Some of the writing - long, looping sentences that render consciousness brilliantly - is truly astonishing.

A subtle blend of fiction and history (imagined as fiction), this is one of Updike's greatest books. Very funny in places, too. Perhaps only Couples beats it.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 16 reviews
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Personal and Public History 29 Mar. 2003
By Robin Friedman - Published on
Format: Paperback
"Memories of the Ford Administration" (1992) is the fifteenth novel of John Updike, a prolific American writer. It is the third of Updike's novels I have read, spaced widely over the years, with the other two being "Roger's Version", which predated this book, and "In the Beauty of the Lillies", which followed it. I had similar reactions to all three books. Updike deals with important and large themes, such as the possiblity and nature of a belief in God in a skeptical age, the character and promise of American life and history, and, of course, the nature of human sexuality.
There are interesting things in the books by Updike that I have read. But they are all highly uneven with long, dull and wordy sections. Worse,the books have each seemed to me glib in a way that detracts from the importance of their themes. They are more in the nature of literary performances than thoughtful explorations of their subject matters. I have thought about the three Updike books I have read, and was engaged while I was reading them. But I still came away dissatisfied.
"Memories of the Ford Administration" begins when, in 1992, a historical organization called the Northern New England Association of American Historians asks Professor Alfred Clayton (named after Alf Landon, the 1936 Republican Presidential candidate) to provide "requested memories and impressions of he presidential Administration of Gerald R. Ford (1974-1977)." Clayton is a professor at a small women's 2-year college in New Hampshire during the Ford years. By 1992, the college is a four-year institution and has gone co-ed.
In response to the request Clayton produces instead a long, rambling, draft-like monologue which is the text of this novel. It consists, in roughly alternating sections, of a discussion of Clayton's personal life during the Ford years, and of a long unfinished manuscript of Clayton's involving the life and administration of President James Buchanan. Buchanan was the fifteenth President, just before Lincoln, and the only bachelor President.
One can understand the befuddlement and the irritation with which the Northern New England Association of American Historians would have greeted Clayton's response. The trouble is, as far as the novel is concerned, that their response is justified and that the reader of the novel is entitled to the same response and more. There are interesting things in Clayton's ruminations on his life and good discussions in the manuscript on Buchanan. There is little on President Ford's administration and, from a novelistic standpoint, far too little in tying the Ford administration together in some insightful way with Clayton's life or with the Buchanan administration. Updike tries to do this I think, but in an overly clever manner. That is why the book is more a "performance" than it should be and ultimately doesn't succeed.
Clayton remembers the Ford years as a time of widespread sexual openness and promiscuity. The novel focuses on his sexual liasions and primarily on his lengthy audulterous affair with a woman named Genevieve, the wife of a colleague at the University, whom he fantasizes to be the "ideal wife." Genevieve and Clayton abandon their families, including young children, to pursue their affair, with deleterious and unhappy consequences. Neither has the will to get a divorce and to marry the other.
Twentieth century writers of every variety show great interest in sex and in the human libido. I think it is a product of the englightment, with the attendant skepticism toward revealed religion, that took place centuries ago, not, of course, in the Ford Administration. Even writers and individuals who have remained committed to organized religion have tended, for the most part, to accept at least some of this product of enlightenment thought. I found it useful to remember this in considering the book's treatment of sexuality.
The Buchanan portion of the book focuses on Buchanan's romance with a young woman during his early career as a lawyer, the termination of the romance due to what appears to be a misunderstanding, and the subsequent early death of Buchanan's beloved. There are good scenes in the book describing Buchanan's subsequent relationships with President Andrew Jackson and the novelist Nathaniel Hawthorne. The final days of Buchanan's administration, the prologue to our Civil War, are described in a revealing, if slapdash, way.
There is a focus on the elusive character of historical understanding -- which is good and well-taken. The book seems to suggest the impossiblilty of achieving anything even approximating historical truth which seems to me tendentious and unsupported.
One theme that comes through, I think, is the value of restraint of our tendencies to be overly-critical of our national leaders, of American culture, and of ourselves. This is easier to do when events are separated from us by historical time, as is the case with President Buchanan, than is the case with our contemporaries, such as President Ford. There is also the broad theme of forgiveness running through the book. I found President Ford's pardon of former President Nixon hovering in the backround of this novel, even though it is little discussed. Thus, to the extent the book deals with the Ford Administration at all, what it has to say is thoughtful and humane. President Ford is praised for doing his best, for keeping the Nation's interests at heart, and for acting in a responsible manner. (see, e.g. p.354, p.366) Professor Clayton learns, I think, in the course of his ruminations, to work towards a sense of forgiveness and understanding of his own life, including its disappointments and failings. I think this too is a message of the book, but I find it obscured by a good deal of false bravado, obscurity, and unnecessarily showy writing.
There is good material in this book and it stimulates reflection. Thus I think the book will reward reading in spite of the reservations about its specific tone, style, and substance that I have expressed.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Good News-Not Really About The Ford Administration At All! 18 Mar. 2006
By Dai-keag-ity - Published on
Format: Paperback
The brilliant John Updike delivers yet again. Deceptively packaged as a sort of historical evaluation of the Presidency of Gerald Ford, this book's protagonist actually tricks us all by giving Ford virtually no ink and ultimately encapsulates his feelings for the man by calling him little more than "the perfect President." You see, though he has been assigned the task of authoring a scholarly paper on Ford, the main character here, a writer and educator from New England, combines an autobiographical tale about his own life during the hectic, sex-filled mid-1970's, with his obsessive mission to make public his views on and expertise of the Presidency of James Buchanan. The writer becomes obsessed in an almost Hitchcockian fashion with Ann, the doomed fiancée of the lawyerly young Buchanan, a woman who meets a tragic death that sends the future fifteenth President of the United States into lifelong bachelorhood and---it is speculated-either undispelled virginity, or just possibly a homosexual relationship in the White House with an Alabama Senator. The Buchanan material, while most interesting of all in its early stages, quickly takes second billing to the tale of the writer's personal life during the 1970's, as he separates from his spouse, falls in lust with a local woman he terms "The Perfect Wife" and skirt-chases after the available females on his college campus and in his neighborhood and social circle. Updike does get surprisingly graphic, even erotic, in his descriptions of sex here, and in a few cases he shifts gears masterfully, making the same scene a thing of both Eros and physical comedy. Memories Of The Ford Administration is a dyed-in-the-wool masterpiece that surely gets its time periods, the first half of the nineteenth-century and the 1970's, down pat. It's a joy to read, a book that makes a reader think, and a tale to settle back and take delight in as it unfolds without effort. Without question a five-star book!
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Buchanan and U 24 Jan. 2005
By Mary E. Sibley - Published on
Format: Paperback
The Updike persona is Alfred Clayton, a New Englander, schooled at Middlebury and Dartmouth. He is an historian. As the book opens he and his children are watching Nixon's resignation speech, marking the beginning of the Ford administration. He is babysitting for the children while his wife goes out with another man since the couple is separated.

Alf refers to his wife Norma as the Queen of Disorder. He calls his mistress Genevieve the Perfect Wife. She is married to an English professor, a deconstructionist. The college is named hilariously by Updike Wayward College.

When Alf left his family he took away his little library on James Buchanan, the subject of a book he had been trying to write for a decade. Buchanan's upbringing began in a log cabin in the middle of Pennsylvania. Buchanan's life and administration form a complement to the Ford administration. They are a sort of filigree.

Buchanan and his fiancee separated over a misunderstanding. Shortly afterwards the young woman, Ann Coleman, died. As a distraction from his grief, Buchanan ran for public office.

Genevieve told Alf that he had been lower than the cats in the household hierarchy. Alf describes himself as doing postgraduate work in adultery and child neglect. When Alf spends the night in his old house because his mother is visiting, he nearly has an asthma attack.

The president of Wayward has a high tech west coast style of governance. She decorates herself like a year around Christmas tree with bangles and hoops.

In the run-up to the Civil War Buchanan insisted upon the defense of federal forts. Genevieve's husband is offered a position at Yale and she is inclined to accompany him there. Alf returns to his family as the Ford administration ends and he and his children watch the inaugural ceremonies of Jimmy Carter. Amusingly there is a bibliography on Buchanan works.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Genius on Display 16 April 2003
By Ethan Cooper - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book features Updike's astonishing talent with the felicitous phrase and the perfect observation. Here is one of hundreds from this beautifully written book: 'The coming day was yet only an unhealthy blush low in the eastward sky, a crack of sallow light beneath a great dome of darkness to which stars still clung, like specks of frozen dew, though the moon had fled.'
But oddly, this genius seems to work against Updike in 'Memories.' This is because his immense talent allows him to jump from what he can render as high point to high point in the lives of Alf Clayton and John Buchanan, the protagonists of this novel's two interlocked story lines. Here, a comparison might be an acting class, where actors do only the most dramatic scenes from great plays.
Somehow, Updike's brilliance in 'Memories' has this same effect on me. In retrospect, this novel is a succession of perfect aesthetic moments. But the personalities of Alf and Buchanan? Certainly, poor Alf is caught in an unhappy marriage. Meanwhile, Buchanan is a temporizer who ultimately fails to master chaos. But the book feels to me like highlights, not the full game, like snapshots instead of tapes.
Of course, I'm not complaining. Updike tells us in his title that these are memories. And, I know these characters, two muddled men, will stay with me.

In my opinion, a facet of Updike's genius is on full display here. It remains one exemplar for judging fiction, for all time.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Brilliant, But Ineffectual 3 Jun. 2010
By Peter Felknor - Published on
Format: Paperback
My title is not meant to refer to the merits (or lack thereof) of this book, but instead its rather odd tale of two men: The narrator, and his historical subject President James Buchanan. President Gerald Ford, whose administration is referenced in the book's title, comes in for only the very briefest (if glowing) mention. That little joke helps set one up for the series of cruel gags that history plays on President Buchanan--and on the narrator.

In essence, both men are stymied from rising to the considerable central challenge that is thrust upon them (the lead-up to the Civil War in Buchanan's case, a romance with a married woman--"The Perfect Wife"--in the narrator's) by their fundamental ineffectiveness. This wishy-washy behavior drove the nation crazy under Buchanan's leadership, and it drives The Perfect Wife crazy as she is lackadaisically wooed by lackluster academic Alf Clayton over the entire course of the Ford administration. Her name is Genevieve, she is married to a fellow professor and they both have children to raise, but Clayton typically finds a way to blame the affair on the loose sexual morality (really more of a Sixties hangover) prevalent during the Ford years.

President Buchanan, in his admiration for the Southern gentleman and a muddled sense of the limits of states' rights under the Constitution, does not realize until it is too late that his conciliatory tone and overstudied sense of what is necessary for national union has brought the United States to the brink of its bloodiest conflict (Buchanan's successor, Abraham Lincoln, was made of sterner stuff and knew before he assumed office what had to be done). We first glimpse this fundamental inability to step up to the plate in Buchanan's young manhood,. when the (probable) suicide of his deeply disturbed fiancee plunges Buchanan into a dark fog from which he never really emerges--leaving the reader wondering why he was so enamored of the conniving, manipulative Ann Coleman in the first place. Buchanan would remain a bachelor for the rest of his life.

Asked to provide his memories of the Ford administration by an obscure association of New England historians, stunted would-be biographer Clayton inexplicably uses the occasion to finally complete his magnum opus on James Buchanan--the lack of publication of which has effectively shut down Clayton's academic career. And the reminiscences on the Ford years promised to the august historians would certainly have caused dropped jaws and discomfort, even at this late date; most of what Clayton recalls of Ford's term in office is excruciatingly detailed trysts with The Perfect Wife. As was mentioned previously, the actual presidency of Gerald R. Ford is reduced to one paragraph toward the end of the book. One assumes that this is not exactly what the publisher had in mind, rather like a child who enthusiastically describes pulling the wings off flies when asked what he did on his summer vacation.

One wonders if what has drawn Clayton to Buchanan is their shared disingenuousness. Buchanan, in throwing friendly sops to the Southern gentry he so admires (perhaps because he himself was a dirt-poor son of the Pennsylvania coal regions), effectively ignites the greatest conflagration in American history. And Clayton, with his shielded academic's sense of entitlement--there is a horrific chapter in which Clayton waxes euphoric about nubile young collegians as part of the spoils of war due a tenured professor like himself--doesn't see any harm in bedding the mother of one of his students. This is the event that marks the demise of his years-long affair with The Perfect Wife, after their respective families have been rent asunder and divorces filed. Professor Clayton seems genuinely puzzled that his paramour is angry with him when he fails to seduce the student but instead goes after her mature mother.

In the end, both men are reduced to a wheedling, needless pride over their signature achievements: Buchanan by managing to avoid firing the first shot in a Civil War that had been coming to a boil throughout his adminstration, Clayton in getting his long-suffering wife (the "Queen of Disorder") to take him back after his years-long dalliance with Genevieve.

I found the saddest paragraph in the book to be the brief summary of the achievements of Gerald Ford. The President who stepped in for the disgraced Richard Nixon (and then pardoned him to save a national nightmare of hair-pulling and recrimination) was everything that both James Buchanan and Alf Clayton never would be: Decent, confident, down-to-earth, self-deprecating, a faithful husband and father; a man adept at placing others' interests above his own.

Alf Clayton admires President Ford, and he doesn't quite know why. One has the feeling that President Buchanan would have felt the same way.
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