Thursday, November 29, 2007

Scenes From A Marriage: II

The wife last night made a comment on which I have been musing these last few days: "If you bring another Thai mistress into the apartment while I'm sleeping, I'm going to give your car to dockworkers.” No. Actually, what she said was, "I had a good time Saturday night. (We'd gone out to dinner, and then had a few drinks). It was nice to sit with you at the bar. It's one of the only times during the week we get to talk."

Now, of course, I see my wife every night. (The mistresses are later). We certainly don't need to wait till Saturday to talk. And, in fact, we don’t—we talk every night (except on Tuesdays, when I drink Tio Pepe in the study with my former midshipmen). But, I know what she means. Weekday nights, in the apartment, is not an occasion which lends itself to moments of deep reflection on life and love. It’s an occasion which lends itself to Project Runway and bed.

But, of course, we have to talk. (Get to! Get to!) And this brings me to the sort-of point of this sort-of observation, which is that one of the skills, for want of a better word, one learns, being married, is to have and enjoy what I will call (non-pejoratively) “low-content conversation.” We can’t always talk about ‘important’ topics, either because we’re tired or because we have no new thoughts on the subject. But we want to talk—not to sit in silence. So we discuss small things: how best to store our baking powder; my wife’s various tribulations with the fitness cult she’s joined at our gym; what to get my brother for Christmas (A Maserati? Or a parrot?) And though some information is communicated, the point is less what we’re saying, than the fact of saying anything at all. It’s like, by speaking, we reassure each other we exist and that we care about the other’s existence.

It recalls to me this passage, from Donald Barthelme's Snow White. (I know: I quote him a lot. Because he's SO DAMNED GOOD).

Dan sat down on a box, and pulled up more boxes for us, without forcing us to sit down on them, but just leaving them there, so that if we wanted to sit down on them, we could. “You know, Klipschorn was right I think when he spoke of the ‘blanketing’ effect of ordinary language, referring, as I recall, to the part that sort of, you know, ‘fills in’ between the other parts. That part, the ‘filling’ you might say, of which the expression ‘you might say’ is a good example, is to me the most interesting part, and of course it might also be called the ‘stuffing’ I suppose, and there is probably also, in addition, some other word that would do as well, to describe it, or maybe a number of them. But the quality this stuffing has, that the other parts of verbality do not have, is two-parted, perhaps: (1) an ‘endless’ quality and (2) a ‘sludge’ quality. Of course that is possibly two qualities but I prefer to think of them as different aspects of a single quality, if you can think that way. The ‘endless’ aspect of ‘stuffing’ is that it goes on and on, in many different forms, and in fact our exchanges are in large measure composed of it, in larger measure even perhaps, than they are composed of that which is not ‘stuffing.’ The ‘sludge’ quality is the heaviness that this ‘stuff’ has, similar to the heavier motor oils, a kind of downward pull but still fluid, if you follow me, and I can’t help thinking that this downwardness is valuable, although it’s hard to say just how, right at the moment….

Having transcribed this passage I now apprehend that it actually has only the slightest relevance to what I’m talking about above. Either there is another passage from Bartheleme—and I think there is (about ‘blague?’)—that DOES address the topic, or I am just completely wrong. In which case, I invite you to draw whatever reasonable conclusions may be drawn from my initial post.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Poker: A Hand and A Question

The Hand

Just back from Puerto Rico. The last time I was there the casinos offered only 5/10 Limit, but they have No-Limit now. Here's a hand that came up after about a two hours of play.

Blinds were 2/5. I have played bone-tight since I sat down, raising only one pot preflop, and folding all the rest. The game is filled with maniacs.

I open UTG with JJ. The first pocket pair I've seen. I raise to 30$. Everybody folds until it gets to the Big Blind--an older man with what looks like dyed red hair. He has played very tight so far--checkraising two maniacs out of a hand on the turn with a big bet and the Nut Full House several hands ago. Anyone else at the table, holding the same full house (Kings full of Jacks) would almost certainly have called the turn and hoped one of the maniacs hit their draws on the river, but Red Dye pushed hard--too hard--on 4th street, turning what should have been a 400$ pot into a 150$ pot. (In No Limit the real skill isn't in winning hands; it's in maximizing the amount you earn on the hands you do win).

I go into his backstory because his tightness should have affected my play in this hand. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

From out of the big blind, he now reraises to 60.00$. Several things go through my head:
1) Oh no! Not THIS guy.
2) Is there any hand he would reraise with that I can beat?
3) Why such a small raise?

Probably he has me beat. Maybe he has KK and is making a tester raise to see if I will come back over the top. Or, maybe he has AA and is just trying to juice the pot. Could he have AK? If it's me and I have AK, I just call an UTG bet from a tight player. But donkeys abound.

First big decision: call, fold, raise? I can't reraise with JJ. But I don't want to fold. His cheap reraise has given me a chance to see a flop and maybe hit a big hand. If he has does have AA and the flop comes J 4 2, is there any way he's going to be able to get away from the hand? I doubt it. He has 300$ behind, so I'm effectively getting better than 10-1 on my call.

I call.

The flop: Q 9 5, two clubs.

I'm not too worried about the Queen; there's no way this guy has reraised with AQ. If he has QQ, well, I was beat anyway.

I lead out, to see if he has a big pair, betting 100$. He thinks for 20 seconds or so and calls.

I think: if he had KK or AA, he would reraise. He must have either 10/10, J/J, or AK. AK makes the most sense; he's probably calling to hope to hit an A.

The turn is a 4. I go all-in (220$). He calls and tables AA.

I'm broke.

So obviously I played the hand badly. I should have checked the turn. What threw me off is that Red Dye really was worried on the flop. He wasn't pretending to think; he really didn't know if he should call. I assumed that weakness meant he couldn't beat JJ; in other words, I assumed he would play the hand like I would play the hand. If I'm the one with AA there, I reraise the flop. He didn't--not because he was trapping, but because he was worried I might have a set of queens (I think). He knew how tightly I'd been playing thus far, and he was actually worried about his Aces.

It's an interesting hand only because it shows how much our opponents affect our play. If I'm heads-up in that same situation against a strong, pro-type player, I will immediately become afraid after he calls my flop bet. I know a strong player won't call with just AK, so I'm beat. But because everyone else at my table in Puerto Rico was playing loose and stupid (calling 50$ preflop bets with 8 2, e.g.) I assumed, subconsciously, that Red Dye was also loose and stupid. (It didn't help that he looked like he'd just broken out of a mental ward). I made an unwarranted assumption about his play, and it hurt me.

I also got hurt by not thinking more deeply about the table image I was projecting. Red Dye knows how tight I am; he can't believe I'm bluffing. Therefore, if he calls, he MUST have a good hand. Finally, I got hurt because of my own prejudices. I assumed that AA or KK would HAVE to raise that flop--because that's what most 'good' players would do. But everyone plays differently, and trying to make reads on people based on my opinions about how they SHOULD play is not ideal. Instead I need to try to think about how my opponents DO play. And that requires imagination.

In retrospect, I think the right line is to call pre-flop, thinking I'm probably beat, and then either check it down or make a small 1/2 pot-sized bet on the flop and if that gets called, check it down. It's possible that line forces me, against some opponents, to lay down the winning hand. But good players lay down good hands--winning hands, even--all the time. I was impatient and I didn't give my opponent enough credit. And that hurt me.

The Question

A decent player raises UTG. You are on the button with A7 of clubs. How many players do you need to call the UTG raise in front of you before you'll also call?

What do you all think?

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Pool and Cars

An interesting article in the New York Times on the demise of the professional Pool Hustler (so THAT's why I can't find games anymore!) I wanted also to link to a great piece in the New Yorker about learning to drive in China, but, sadly, it's not available online. But, read it! Especially funny is the description of the test Chinese drivers have to pass in order to acquire a license. I would transcribe, but I seem to have thrown the issue away. Which is odd, because my magazine pile contains several issues of the Atlantic published in 2006. Oh well.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Saturday, November 10, 2007


I'll be gone next week; top officials in Pakistan have requested I fly in to mediate between the factions currently struggling for control of the government. My plan is to bring them coffee cakes--and maybe a copy of "Frank Sinatra Croons Songs to Mediate Between Warring Pakistani Factions." If that doesn't work, I'll probably just find a cardroom.

Point is, no blogging. However, there are any number of succulent, long-thought out posts that still await your replies. Come on, people! What else do I have? Bad television, wine, and the few of you who read these posts to the end. Let's have some colloquy. Colloquy!

In the meantime, here's the conclusion to Barthelme's "The Genius." It can be found in his masterwork, Don Quixote.
His worst moment: He is in a church, kneeling in a pew near the back. He is gradually made aware of a row of nuns, a half-dozen, kneeling twenty feet ahead of him, their heads bent over their beads. One of the nuns however has turned her head almost completely around, and seems to be staring at him. The genius glances at her, glances away, then looks again: she is still staring at him. The genius is only visiting the church in the first place because the nave is said to be a particularly fine example of Burgundian Gothic. He places his eyes here, there, on the altar, on the stained glass, but each time they return to the nuns, his nun still staring. The genius says to himself, This is my worst moment.

* * *

He is a drunk.

* * *

“A truly potent abstract concept avoids, resists closure. The ragged, blurred outlines of such a concept, like a net in which the fish have eaten large, gaping holes, permit entry and escape equally. What does one catch in such a net? The sea horse with a Monet in his mouth. How did the Monet get there? Is the value of the Monet less because it has gotten wet? Are there tooth marks in the Monet? Do sea horses have teeth? How large is the Monet? From which period? Is it a water lily or group of water lilies? Do sea horses eat water lilies? Does Parke-Bernet know? Do oil and water mix? Is a mixture of oil and water bad for the digestion of the sea horse? Should art be expensive? Should artists wear beards? Ought beards to be forbidden by law? Is underwater art better than overwater art? What does the expression ‘glad rags’ mean? Does it refer to Monet’s paint rags? In the Paris of 1878, what was the average monthly rent for a north-lit, spacious studio in an unfashionable district? If sea horses eat water lilies, what percent of their daily work energy, expressed in ergs, is generated thereby? Should the holes in the net be mended? In a fight between a sea horse and a flitternmouse, which would you bet on? If I mend the net, will you forgive me? Do water rats chew upon the water lilies? Is there a water buffalo in the water cooler? If I fill my water gun to the waterline, can I then visit the watering place? Is fantasy an adequate substitute for correct behavior?

* * *

…But now a brown UPS truck arrives at his door. It contains a ceremonial sword (with inscription) forged in Toledo, courtesy of the Mayor and City Council of Toledo, Spain. The genius whips the blade about in the midmorning air, signing the receipt with his other hand….

Friday, November 9, 2007

Scenes From A Marriage: I

Here's a rough transcription of a conversation that took place recently between...uhm...two friends. It took place on the evening before the husband's birthday.

WIFE: (Seems unhappy).
HUSBAND: What's wrong?
WIFE: I already know I'm going to be really upset tomorrow.
HUSBAND: What? Why?
WIFE: Because it's your birthday, and you aren't going to have a cake.
HUSBAND: But I don't want a cake.
WIFE: Yes you do. Everybody wants a big cake on their birthday.
HUSBAND: I don't.
WIFE: Yes you do.
HUSBAND: I don't.
WIFE: Everyone does. And you're not going to have one. That means I'm a bad wife.
HUSBAND: You're not a bad wife. You're a wonderful wife. Why do I care about a cake when I have you?
WIFE: No I'm not. If I were a wonderful wife, I'd make you a cake.
HUSBAND: If you want to make me a cake, you can. You know I like your cakes.
WIFE: No, because you won't eat it.
HUSBAND: Yes I will!
WIFE: Not every day. You'll just eat it tomorrow. Then it will sit around in the refrigerator and go bad. That will make me REALLY upset.
HUSBAND: I'm sorry. I just don't like to eat cake that often.
WIFE: That's all right.
HUSBAND: What if you made a cake and we froze it?
WIFE (with profound scorn): You can't FREEZE butter-cream.
HUSBAND: I'm sorry.
WIFE: It's all right. It's my problem.
HUSBAND: Well, it's my problem too.

Gradual petering out of conversation. Viewing of "Beauty and the Geek."

ADDENDUM: in lieu of a big cake, several small lemon pound-cakes were prepared. The icing was sugar-based, thus allowing it to be frozen. The cakelets, as it were, exceeded all standards for lemon-based excellence previously held by the husband (no small connoisseur of lemon). Husband ate several. It's likely he'll have more tonight. I mean, that's what I hear....

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Viewing Notes: Une Femme Est Une Femme (A Woman Is A Woman)

For relevant film information, go here.

A short summary: Anna Karina plays herself. She struggles to choose between two men--her boyfriend and Jean-Paul Belmondo (best known to me as the star of Godard's earlier Breathless). She's also a stripper. And she wants a baby. But neither of those facts matter, because the movie has no real plot. Essentially it's just Anna Karina. If you think she's delightful, you will at least not hate this. If you don't think she's delightful--at least a little--you are either formed entirely of cobalt, or you are grouchier than even me. Which is no mean feat.

If you've never seen Anna Karina in anything, you should. I'd suggest Vivre Sa Vie, my favorite Karina-Godard collaboration. She's like Audrey Hepburn in Breakfast At Tiffany's but sexier and quoting Sartre. Stylish and iconic she represents, I think, the Platonic ideal of a French woman. Whatever that means.

Anyway, back to A Woman Is A Woman.

Here are my (drumroll for name of Feature): VIEWING NOTES.

-Exuberant and joyful but so intent on its whimsy it allows story and other long-term concerns to languish. Wonderful in bursts, exhausting as a whole.

-Scenes of people walking through Paris are filled with faces, strange juxtapositions of architecture, random and careless beauty. Godard makes Paris a character in all his films. Often it's the best one.

-Thought about France: Everything is subsumed by STYLE. All acts are are part of a look, an appearance, an attitude. (Based on a scene in which the boyfriend keeps showily opening, but not reading, a Communist newspaper.)

-A movie in which characters repeatedly say: "Men are ___. Women are ___." A formulation that should be used no more than once per day.

-In a similar vein: this is typical dialogue: "Is this a tragedy or a comedy?" "You never know with women." Sounds awesome! Makes not much sense.

-Many theatrical effects in search of an emotion to sustain or require them. Example: A scene in which the boyfriend and wife speak/fight by showing each other words on books which say their thoughts. ("Monster.")

-A great idea: two lovers who are always shown kissing outside Anna's apartment. We never see their faces. They never move. Backs to us.

-Anna Karina: artist first, actress second. That's not an insult.

-What I like most about Godard is this: he's not afraid of joy.

Announcing A New Feature

Introducing...Viewing Notes! (Dancing. Bears.)

Brought to you by your good friend at Toyota!

No, no.

In which I make notes about significant films. To qualify, a movie must be either from the Criterion Collection, or come highly recommended by someone I know. Also, I have to have my pencil handy during the viewing.

Probably this will mostly apply to "important films"--ones I watch, at least in part, because I'm supposed to.

It's going to be big. You'll see.

Friday, November 2, 2007

White Noise: An Exchange. Part I

My friend John and I are having a discussion about Don DeLillo's novel White Noise. Here are the first two emails.

John writes:

You know that I've only managed to make it through the first 30 pages
of White Noise, twice. Underworld is one of my favorite novels despite
its flaws, but for some reason the flaws seem much more glaring to me
in this novel, and yet I think it's generally held in higher regard. I
wanted to start by talking about his view of suburbia and consumerism.
On the very first page, the narrator itemizes the loot from a recent
shopping expedition:

"....the junk food still in shopping bags--onion-and-garlic chips,
nacho thins, peanut creme patties, Waffelos and Kabooms, fruit chews and toffee popcorn; the Dum-Dum pops, the Mystic mints."

I think some people must find this funny, or insightful, or both. It
just seems silly to me. Maybe in the mid-80s, when the book was
written, just casting one's eye over a panoply of pop-cultural (or in
this case, pop-culinary) items stood as some kind of larger spiritual
commentary. Or is it just DeLillo who thinks noticing those things is
deep in and of itself? He resorts to gimmicks like this often early in
the book, which is one reason I can't bring myself to delve further.
Am I right, or does he back off a little bit as he goes?

Of course, when he tries to connect images like the one above to more
explicit commentary, I get even more agitated. A few pages later, he
goes back to the groceries for inspiration:

"It seemed to me that Babette and I, in the mass and variety of our purchases, in the sheer plenitude those crowded bags suggested, the weight and size and number, the familiar package designs and vivid lettering, the giant sizes, the family bargain packs with Day-Glo sale stickers, in the sense of replenishment we felt, the sense of well-being, the security and contentment these products brought to some snug home in our souls -- it seemed we had achieved a fullness of being that is not known to people who need less, expect less, who plan their lives around lonely walks in the evening."

It's clear that DeLillo is satirizing those who have a "snug home" in
their souls that is satisfied by food purchases. But whenever I read
something like the paragraph above, two thoughts occur: 1. Who are
these people who stake their existential happiness on family bargain
packs? Isn't DeLillo just creating them in order to destroy them? That
seems boring. I feel like people in the 'burbs with the giant,
gleaming grocery stores enter and leave them feeling like anyone else
would: depending on their mood. I frequently shopped at such places in
Texas. Sometimes it was thrilling -- on a good day, or some night at 2
a.m. when I was feeling wistful -- and other times it was deadening
and seemed like too much. DeLillo's stance, that it somehow inherently
reflects a larger soullessness, strikes me as a teenage feeling. 2. Is
it wrong to feel some kind of satisfaction from living a life that
allows you to have what you want/need? Where does DeLillo draw that
line? Put another way, how many groceries are you allowed to be happy
about before you become ridiculous?



So much to say!

The problem I’ve had in responding to your letter is that I agree so completely with everything you’ve said, I don’t know what to add.

On the subject of the supermarket: yes. DeLillo returns here (the supermarket) again and again throughout the book. It’s worth your time to compare the paragraph you cite to the book’s final paragraph, in which the narrator again revisits the supermarket. It would be a useful way for us to consider the book’s overall thematic development (such as it is).

On the subject of lists: yes. There must have been a time—maybe in the 70s—when providing long lists seemed an exciting literary technique. The master of this, in my reading, is Donald Barthelme. He stole the technique from Rabelais (among others) who frequently uses it as a way of undercutting (by overdoing) the gravity of a situation. Here’s Rabelais on the preparation for a siege:

Some from the fields brought into the fortified places their movables, bestial, corn, wine, fruit, victuals, and other necessary provision. Others did fortify and rampire their walls, set up little fortresses, bastions, squared ravelins, digged trenches, cleansed countermines, fenced themselves with gabions, contrived platforms, emptied casemates, barricaded the false brays, erected the cavaliers, repaired the counterscarps, plastered the curtains, lengthened ravelins, stopped parapets, morticed barbicans, assured the portcullises, fastened the herses, sarasinesques, and cataracts, placed their sentries, and doubled their patrol. Everyone did watch and ward, and not one was exempted from carrying the basket. Some polished corselets, varnished backs and breasts, cleaned the headpieces, mail-coats, brigandines, salads, helmets, morions, jacks, gushets, gorgets, hoguines, brassars, and cuissars, corselets, haubergeons, shields, bucklers, targets, greaves, gauntlets, and spurs. Others made ready bows, slings, crossbows, pellets, catapults, migrains or fire-balls, firebrands, balisets, scorpions, and other such warlike engines expugnatory and destructive to the Hellepolides.

This is totally irrelevant to White Noise. But I love Rabelais.

At some point, the newness faded—and that point was long ago. Now the technique has to be judged on its merits which I think, generally, are few. Lists make for uninteresting writing. The heart of any sentence—the engine—is the verb. Take that away, and you get flat, listless (no pun intended) sentences. They smack of laziness: they require the writer only passively record what he sees or imagines, and to dispense with subordination, logical reasoning, and ordering in time—the tools and exigencies of thought. White Noise is stuffed with lists (along with their ugly older brother, fragments). They reflect, I suggest, the essential intellectual laziness that characterizes most of the novel.

* * *

For me, it’s useful to consider the ways a book (as distinct from a poem, or a movie) can provide its reader pleasure. (Because pleasure, in the end, is what counts). If that seems to slight the role of art (shouldn’t they do more than just give us pleasure?) realize that I consider being taught, or made to feel, or—ideally—made to feel and think simultaneously—varieties of pleasure. Pleasure at its most rarefied, and noble.

In order to save something for the next letter, I’m only going to talk here about two ways of the numerous ways a novel can provide pleasure.

1) Humor, Laughter, Wit.

Many great writers are funny (perhaps all? Humorlessness a trait of all mediocre artists?). Some, I would submit, are great ONLY because they’re funny. The works of P.G. Wodehouse, for example, offer no great psychological penetration into the human soul. They don’t force us to examine our world, or to delve more deeply into its hidden mysteries. But they’re funny—sometimes very funny—and that’s enough.

Many who admire White Noise seem to think it’s funny (my edition features a glowing blurb from the New Republic that cites its devastating wit). I’ve read it three times, and at no point in any of those readings did I so much as crack a smile. Of course I can’t prove that it’s not funny—a negative can never be proven. But I would invite anyone who disagrees to provide examples of passage they find funny.

One of my favorite critical essay of the last few years was R.B Meyer’s, “A Reader’s Manifesto.” In it, he has this to say about DeLillo’s sense of humor:

Throughout DeLillo's career critics have called his work funny: "absurdly comic ... laugh-out-loud funny" (Michiko Kakutani), "grimly funny" (Phillips). And most seem to agree with Christopher Lehmann-Haupt that White Noise is "one of Don DeLillo's funniest." At the same time, they refuse to furnish examples of what they find so amusing. I have a notion it's things like "Are the men in hacking jackets? What's a hacking jacket?" but it would be unfair to assert this without evidence. Luckily for our purposes, Mark Osteen, in an introduction to a recent edition of the novel, singles out the following conversation as one of the best bits of "sparkling dialogue" in this "very funny" book. It is telling that the same cultural elite that never quite "got" the British comic novel should split its sides at this.

"I will read," she said. "But I don't want you to choose anything that has men inside women, quote-quote, or men entering women. 'I entered her.' 'He entered me.' We're not lobbies or elevators. 'I wanted him inside me,' as if he could crawl completely in, sign the register, sleep, eat, so forth. Can we agree on that? I don't care what these people do as long as they don't enter or get entered."

"'I entered her and began to thrust.'"
"I'm in total agreement," I said.
"'Enter me, enter me, yes, yes.'"
"Silly usage, absolutely."
"'Insert yourself, Rex. I want you inside me, entering hard ...'"

And so on. Osteen would probably have groaned at that exchange if it had turned up on Sex and the City. The fuss he makes over it in this context is a good example of how pathetically grateful readers can be when they discover—lo and behold!—that a "literary" author is actually trying to entertain them for a change.

2) Linguistic/Stylistic Beauty.

By “beauty” I don’t mean “complexity.” Updike and Nabokov are both fantastic prose stylists. So—in his quiet way—is Graham Greene. So is Denis Johnson. So is Raymond Carver. DeLillo, in my reading, is not. His prose isn’t awful; it’s not embarrassing. But neither is it special. Here’s a selection, chosen completely at random (it’s at the start of Chapter 21, page 107 in the Penguin Great Books edition):

After a night of dream-lit snows the air turned clear and still. There was a taut blue quality in the January light, a hardness and confidence. The sound of boots on packed snow, the contrails streaked cleanly in the high sky. Weather was very much the point, although I didn’t know it at first.

What can we say about this? There is a taut blue quality in (not “to”) the January light. Ok. I don’t think that’s a meaningful change. I think it’s supposed to be profound and ominous; I find it a little self-conscious. The third sentence (“The sound of boots...”) is a fragment, a favorite DeLillo technique. I think it works fine here; this is probably my favorite sentence in the paragraph. Stylistically, there’s nothing much here to praise or censure.

By the way, the paragraph’s ominous conclusion (“although I didn’t know it at first”) perfectly captures the book’s mood. In the midst of banality lie great dangers. But we humans are blind! We don’t pay attention! We’re distracted by all our objects, by the machines and products which fill our empty days!

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

It’s not much relevant to a discussion of White Noise, but I want to include a selection from Couples, Updike’s semi-notorious chronicle of infidelity among the leisured elite. It’s a novel whose characters repelled me and whose story didn’t really interest me. But I could not put it down, because of writing like this:

Piet was by profession a builder, in love with snug, right-angled things, and he had grown to love this house, its rectangular low rooms, its baseboards and chair rails molded and beaded by hand, the slender mullions of the windows whose older panes were flecked with oblong bubbles and tinged with lavender, the swept worn brick of the fireplace hearths like entryways into a sooty upward core of time, the attic he had lined with silver insulation paper so it seemed now a vaulted jewel box or an Aladdin’s cave, the solid freshly poured basement that had been a cellar floored with dirt when they had moved in five years ago.

I can ignore and forgive any issues I have with Updike because the prose affords me so much pleasure. White Noise does not.