When New York spoke to John Updike for a profile in October, America was beginning to fathom the real depths of its financial woes, and Barack Obama was still running for his presidency. In these previously unpublished excerpts from that conversation, the writer shared his insights on both.
The Great Depression
“I was born in ’32, when the Depression was at its worst. Years ago I saw a psychiatrist for a couple of years, and when I’d done a few sessions, he said, ‘Oh, it certainly smacks of the Depression.’ I’ll tell you what was nice about it: There were a lot of only children. Because people were scared. My mother wanted to have another child, I believe, but my father was out of work. He was thrown out of work and simultaneously lost his investments. They weren’t enormous, but they were enough to sustain us in the nice small-town house where I grew up. My father did get a job and scrape through, but it was a scraping-through, even relative to the other people in the town. But you’ve seen movies about that era, and there was a certain coziness, and a dollar went a long way, and people were kind to each other. It was considered correct form to give a dollar to bums when they came to the back door, and when they did, we did. It was a very stable world for a child. Children don’t like change—I certainly didn’t—and the Depression froze small towns. Then the war came along and froze them additionally. So by ’45, it was a world that hadn’t changed in fifteen years. Now you get used to nothing looking the same, nothing being there that was there. It’s a different world entirely … But the economic terror was very real. My father was a minister’s son and a responsible man who was out of work and had no idea how to get work. And he never forgot that and never stopped voting Democratic. My hope is that if there is a [new] depression, everyone will start voting Democratic again!
“It’s very worrisome: If this country doesn’t elect Obama, it will have blown an opportunity that will never come again. I just think he’s so much the superior candidate. But maybe I’m speaking like a teenage crush.”