The hero of John Updike’s first novel, published when the author was twenty-six, is ninety-four-year-old John Hook, a dying man who yet refuses to be dominated. His world is a poorhouse—a county home for the aged and infirm—overseen by Stephen Conner, a righteous young man who considers it his duty to know what is best for others. The action of the novel unfolds over a single summer’s day, the day of the poorhouse’s annual fair, a day of escalating tensions between Conner and the rebellious Hook. Its climax is a contest between progress and tradition, benevolence and pride, reason and faith.
John Updike was born in Shillington, Pennsylvania, in 1932. He graduated from Harvard College in 1954 and spent a year in Oxford, England, at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art. From 1955 to 1957 he was a member of the staff of The New Yorker. His novels have won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Rosenthal Foundation Award, and the William Dean Howells Medal. In 2007 he received the Gold Medal for Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. John Updike died in January 2009.
“A first novel of rare precision and real merit . . . a rich poorhouse indeed.”—Newsweek
“Turning on a narrow plot of ground, it achieves the rarity of bounded, native truth, and comes forth as microcosm.”—Commonweal
“Brilliant . . . Here is the conflict of real ideas; of real personalities; here is a work of intellectual imagination and great charity. The Poorhouse Fair is a work of art.”—The New York Times Book Review