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The Poorhouse Fair (Penguin Classics) [Paperback]

John Updike
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Jun 2006 Penguin Classics
At the Diamond County Home for the Aged, the inmates prepare for the annual ritual of the Poorhouse Fair, a summer celebration at which the old and infirm sell their produce on stalls to the people of the local town. Bitter, resentful and edging towards senility, the elderly residents of the Home take pride every year in the responsibility and self-respect they gain from this one day. But when the fair goes less well than the old folks had hoped, they are in no doubt who to blame: Conner, the new prefect of the home. Together, they begin to revolt against the younger man, and reassert their own independence.


Product details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics (1 Jun 2006)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0141188480
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141188485
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 13.2 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 179,221 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

About the Author

John (Hoyer) Updike (1932-) American novelist, short story writer and poet, internationally known for his novels RABBIT, RUN (1960), RABBIT REDUX (1971), RABBIT IS RICH (1981), and RABBIT AT REST (1990). His latest novel is VILLAGES (Penguin, 2005)

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully Written, But a Bit Dull 24 Aug 2003
By Westley
Format:Mass Market Paperback
John Updike's first novel takes place at a home for the elderly (the poorhouse). Published in 1958, the novel takes place in the near-future and chronicles the struggle between the elderly "inmates" of the poorhouse and the new director, Connors. Mr. Connors is a relatively young man, and he's hated by the poorhouse residents, especially when compared to the previous director, the loveable Mendellsohn. This hatred seems to stem from mutual distrust and miscommunication.
The action takes place on the day of the annual fair, when the residents sell crafts and other goods to the local townspeople. The fair has always been the residents favorite day, although a burden they simultaneously resent. When the fair goes less then well, the residents revolt, albeit in rather passive ways, against their new leader, further delineating the lines between them.
Updike's greatest asset as a writer has always been his love of language and that gift is present even here, his first novel. Unfortunately, the novel lacks the stronger narrative drive he subsequently developed in novels such as the Rabbit series. At times, the novel is confusing and almost free-form in nature. This situation is particularly pronounced in the final third, when the townspeople converge on the poorhouse, introducing a multitude of new characters and stories.
Although brilliantly written, the novel is sluggish at times. At less than 200 pages, it nevertheless took me a relatively long time to struggle through. In the end, I appreciated many qualities of the book, but frankly I didn't really enjoy it. Recommended primarily for Updike completists.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Fine Debut 17 Feb 2014
Format:Paperback
"The Poorhouse Fair" is the debut novel from the greatest American novelist of all time, the mighty John Updike. The story itself is a little thin, though the observations are sharp. For a slim volume, not an awful lot of story is packed into this thing (I once heard Tess Gerritsen say you should never write a novel about old people, hence the failure of "Life Support", a fine novel in itself), but what you do get is plenty of Updike detail and description. Most people will come here for the prose, and mark my words, it will astound you. They don't make books like this any more, and it's a perfect opportunity thanks to Penguin Modern Classics to discover what this fabulous author had up his sleeve before he introduced us to Rabbit Angstrom. A worthy purchase.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Interesting book, could have been much better 16 Sep 2013
By erovira
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
It is a good book, only a tad too bland, it could have been an amazing book but John Updike seems to only scratch the surface of things.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 3.6 out of 5 stars  8 reviews
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A slim wonder from a 26 year old -- I hate him! 20 Nov 2002
By Philip Albinus - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
No, just kidding. I don't hate him; I'm thankful that he's still with us and sharing his words.
In his first novel, we see John Updike about to bloom unto a wonderful writer and most of his themes are here in this slim book: growing old, facing death, thinking about Man and God. I should be able to delve deeper into the themes but I don't read for grand themes, frankly. I read Saul Bellow for the comedy of intellectuals struggling with daily life; I read Iris Murdoch to be among smart folks who seem so damned dumb; and I read Philip Roth for the jolt of the smut from people who should be nicer and holier. That said, I read Updike for the gorgeous language and his mission to catalog the world he sees, like some monk on a mission. Nature is gift to show us how small we are and Updike is here to record everything that catches his gleeming eye.
'The Poorhouse Fair' at first feels like a trifle but it expands after you put the book down. Not to be a jerk, but after reading this book I felt I was watching a commercial for a paper towel expanding, gaining heft and becoming richer after being dipped in a glass of water. Silly, but that's how I feel. Read The Poorhouse Fair, put it down and then read 'Of the Farm' and then get cracking on the Rabbit novels. When you're done with those, we'll talk about 'Couples', and 'Towards the End of Time', and ...
9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully Written, But Dull 3 Aug 2003
By Westley - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
John Updike's first novel takes place at a home for the elderly (the poorhouse). Published in 1958, the novel takes place in the near-future and chronicles the struggle between the elderly "inmates" of the poorhouse and the new director, Connors. Connor is a relatively young man, and he's hated by the poorhouse residents, especially when compared to the previous director, the loveable Mendellsohn. This hatred seems to stem from mutual distrust and miscommunication.
The action takes place on the day of the annual fair, when the residents sell crafts and other goods to the local townspeople. The fair has always been the residents favorite day, although a burden they simultaneously resent. When the fair goes less then well, the residents revolt, albeit in rather passive ways, against their new leader, further delineating the lines between them.
Updike's greatest asset as a writer has always been his love of language and that gift is present even here, his first novel. Unfortunately, the novel lacks the stronger narrative drive he subsequently developed in novels such as the Rabbit series. At times, the novel is confusing and almost free-form in nature. This situation is particularly pronounced in the final third, when the townspeople converge on the poorhouse, introducing a multitude of new characters and stories.
Although brilliantly written, the novel is sluggish at times. At less than 200 pages, it nevertheless took me a relatively long time to struggle through. In the end, I appreciated many qualities of the book, but frankly I didn't really enjoy it. Recommended primarily for Updike completists.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One heck of a debut 3 Jun 2003
By Thomas Russell - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
I read this book about 15 years ago and just finished rereading it tonight. Have to say it has as much mystery and meaning as Melville, although the dialogue at the end got to be confusing and exasperating. Did I miss something big here? Regardless of some of my frustration with the confusing dialogue and shifting scenes, this book shows an author who is so good he understands the dynamics of growing old - before he even approaches old age. A real power struggle also is at play here between young and old and is one that doesn't seem to get resolved at the end. The author certainly shows his genious not just through description and dialogue - traits that bloom with his later works - but also with his discussion of past presidents as well as God - a theme that pleasantly revererates through his work. Found Hook's and Conner's dialogue about God and faith as a sort of preview for the debate of this subject in a later work - Roger's Version. Not one of his easiest books, by any means, but probably a good intro to his overall work.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars old men and beautiful prose 28 April 2000
By scott - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Who but Updike could write a novel about a bunch of grumbling, poor old men and make it a thing of beauty. This is one of Updike's most poetic works, a world completely saturated in self-absorbed imagery, causing the book to writhe with life even though all the characters are either very old or pathetic. Surprisingly there is no adultery in this novel(!), but it is still easily recognizable as Updike by the nature of the gloom and doom observations. Althought the plot itself was a little weak, it seemed really to make no difference; the plot is merely the background which is there simply to showcase the richness and boldness of Updike's prose.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars no page turner, but still entertaining 16 Jun 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Mass Market Paperback
This was the first Updike book that I have read, and it was worth reading. Don't expect any drastic plot elements to emerge-they don't. Instead, it's just a nice small book with some very interesting and sometimes beautiful portraits of older persons. At points, Updike's style is grating (conversation becomes especially confusing at the end), but it's still a good read, especially if the reader is interested in older persons.
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