John Updike, the kaleidoscopically gifted writer whose quartet of Rabbit novels highlighted a body of fiction, verse, essays and criticism so vast, protean and lyrical as to place him in the first rank of American authors, died on Tuesday in Danvers, Mass. He was 76 and lived in Beverly Farms, Mass.
The detail of his writing was so rich that it inspired two schools of thought on Mr. Updike’s fiction: those who responded to his descriptive prose as to a kind of poetry, a sensuous engagement with the world, and those who argued that it was more style than content.
The latter position was defined by James Wood in the 1999 essay “John Updike’s Complacent God.”
“He is a prose writer of great beauty,” Mr. Wood wrote, “but that prose confronts one with the question of whether beauty is enough, and whether beauty always conveys all that a novelist must convey.”
Astonishingly industrious and prolific, Mr. Updike turned out three pages a day of fiction, essays, criticism or verse, proving the maxim that several pages a day was at least a book a year — or more. Mr. Updike published 60 books in his lifetime; his final one, “My Father’s Tears and Other Stories,” is to be published in June.
“I would write ads for deodorants or labels for catsup bottles, if I had to,” he told The Paris Review in 1967. “The miracle of turning inklings into thoughts and thoughts into words and words into metal and print and ink never palls for me.”