To the list of John Updike’s well-intentioned protagonists—Rabbit Angstrom, Richard Maple, Henry Bech—add James Buchanan, the harried fifteenth president of the United States (1857–1861). In what the author calls “a kind of novel, conceived in the form of a play,” Buchanan’s political and private lives are represented as aspects of his spiritual life, whose crowning, condensing act is the act of dying. This definitive edition includes a Foreword by Updike, discussing early productions of the work, the historical context in which it was written, and its kinship to his later novel Memories of the Ford Administration. A wide-ranging Afterword fleshes out this dramatic portrait of one of America’s lesser known, and least appreciated, leaders.
“An abundant, even opulent, creative act . . . Very often Mr. Updike’s fantastic talent for mimicry produces quite marvelous results.”—Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., The Atlantic Monthly
“Using the excuse of nineteenth-century speech, Updike has indulged his love of beautiful, ornate prose; we can sink deep into sentences balanced like mobiles and turned like pots on the wheel.”—Chicago Tribune
“In the real-life figure of the too hastily judged James Buchanan . . . Updike has at last found vehicles for his gifts of compassion and capacity to create characters ‘in the round.’ ”—Financial Times