Sunday, April 13, 2008
Review of the Day: The Centaur
Despite its title, I was surprised by how myth-centric The Centaur is. It is the story of a high school science teacher and his student son. It is also John Updike's re-telling of the myth of the centaur Chiron who, wounded, gives his life (his immortality) to Prometheus.
This is a book I may appreciate more in the recollection. While reading it, I was distracted by the allegory. Sometimes, the mythical references were too vague or convoluted to catch and I had to refer to the index at the back to make sure I wasn't missing something important. But at times, the myth is more than allegory -- it is right there in the middle of the action. Updike sometimes refers to the hero as Chiron and describes his hooves clacking on the school stairs, for instance. I found the switch from allegory to action to be jarring.
Also, the hero was annoying, not just to me as a reader, but to his son, wife, and co-workers in the story. I can't figure out how his unlikeability ties in with the myth of Chiron.
I read this because it won the National Book Award in 1964. I prefer his Rabbit novels.