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.
“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