Of the Farm, this early novel by John Updike, tells the story of a successful Manhattan professional who, with his second wife and her precocious son, visits his mother on the family farm, where memories and accusations ensue.
In a New York Review of Books essay, British novelist Ian McEwan praises Updike's voracious eye for detail, even in the sex scenes, which have outraged some feminists for the narrative "male gaze."
This isn't my objection so much as the author's penchant for overwriting and strained metaphors.
There's no question that Updike is often masterful at anatomizing cross-generational familial conflicts, but as perhaps might be expected in an American novel of the early Sixties, the author's rendering of female consciousness is quite traditional in his women characters' male dependence, emasculating power or supposed inferior intellect. Some of the protagonist's reveries about his wife's body as a landscape are frankly embarrassing. At one point, the protagonist looks at the scudding Pennsylvania clouds, seeing one that evokes "lawyers at loggerheads." Toward the end the novel takes a theological turn.
This reviewer has inestimable respect for Updike the critic, and as the author of the Rabbit tetralogy. His command of genres is comparable to a man of letters such as Edmund Wilson. But it may well be that his prodigious production was also something of a weakness, because some of the later novels received awful reviews.
The late novelist David Foster Wallace grouped Updike with Mailer and Roth as among the Great American Narcissists; that is, Updike's protagonists often seemed versions of the author himself. Even in the Rabbit novels, the deliberately limited perspective causes Updike to stereotype Japanese businessmen and, arguably, blacks in Rabbit, Redux. Women and ethnic novelists provide a necessary counterbalance to Updike's vision of America.