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Roger's Version (1986)

by John Updike

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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720522,388 (3.42)7
A born-again computer whiz kid bent on proving the existence of God on his computer meets a middle-aged divinity professor, Roger Lambert, who'd just as soon leave faith a mystery. Soon the computer hacker begins an affair with professor Lambert's wife -- and Roger finds himself experiencing deep longings for a trashy teenage girl. "From the Paperback edition."… (more)
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On a recent long vacation I took an old book by Margaret Atwood and "Roger's Version" by John Updike. The Updike book was written in 1986 and it was interesting to observe the culture and attitudes of that time. I have read a lot of Updike but it had been years. I forgot how wonderful his prose is and how well he does characters and place. The story is about a former minister and now a divinity teacher at a university in an unnamed city in the Northeast. Roger left the ministry as a result of an affair with a younger woman(Esther) which resulted in a divorce and marriage to Esther. 14 years later they have 12 year old son and the marriage is not doing well. Entire Dale Kohler a struggling grad student who approaches Roger for help in getting university money for a project to prove God's existence with the use of computers. There is too much technical info. in the book which weighs it down, but the stories of the interplay of all the characters(there is also a young niece in the cast ) is interesting. Given the wealth of output by Updike, I think there are much better books to start with if you have not read Updike(read all of the Rabbit books) but for the Updike reader this one is worth the time. Simply one of the great writers of the 20th century. ( )
  nivramkoorb | May 29, 2019 |
I'm always on the lookout for books that don't follow a tired formula, and I can honestly say that I've never encountered a novel like this. Where else can you find a novel with deep discussions of Christian theology, theoretical physics, and computer technology, punctuated with scenes of explicit sex?

Roger Lambert is a professor at a distinguished East Coast divinity school (which sounds a lot like Harvard). A former Methodist minister, he was resigned his ministry after an affair that led to the marriage of his second (younger) wife. One day a grad student comes to him seeking his help to solicit a grant for the purpose of proving the existence of God using data from new discoveries in astronomy and physics with the help of state-of-the-art computers.

Roger is contemptuous of the proposal. He's also contemptuous of the young man. In fact, Roger is such an elitist that there hardly seems to be anyone he admires or respects. He's really just a husk of a man who, though a professed adherent of the theology of Karl Barth (who championed the notion of a God who revealed Himself), ironically hardly sees God revealing Himself anywhere--least of all in humanity. He is definitely not someone from whom one would wisely seek spiritual counsel.

Yet Roger and the young man enter into a relationship. The relationship leads Roger to introduce the young man to his family, and that leads the young man to enter into a steamy affair with Roger's bored wife.

At least, Roger imagines them--in great detail!--having such a steamy affair. And since the entire novel is told from Roger's point-of-view (the book is called, "Roger's Version," after all), who really knows how many of the details are true? Having become as spiritually bankrupt as he is, the vacuum in Roger's life has to be filled with something, and it turns out to be the most primal of things--obsessions with sex. Indeed, Roger's emptiness leads to terrible personal transgressions of his own, but I'll not leave any spoilers.

Having myself attended a prestigious East Coast divinity school (not Harvard) around the era when the novel takes place, I recognized the "type" that Roger incarnates. I have no idea, of course, what my professors' personal lives were like, but there was something about the atmosphere of the place that cultivated a certain effetism among many of them. Karl Barth vociferously made the point (as Roger himself stresses) that God is not an object, but is the Subject. But when academia sets to examine in God in earnest, is it not violated that cardinal principle? And the more intensely one makes God the object of analysis, what remains of the underlying power to fuel morals, ethics, and faith?

What I missed in the book was an understanding of what made Roger into the man he was. Starting out as a minister, he must have had some spiritual calling. What led him to lose that and become so cold in middle-age? Was it because of his surrender to the affair that drove him from his parish? Or had the spark died within him beforehand, which led to his affair? Since Roger is the one telling the story, he remains aloof about the details. We are left to surmise, He remains a cipher. ( )
  kvrfan | Apr 25, 2015 |
Having never read anything by John Updike, I wanted to try one of his lesser known novels. I saw this novel at a flea market, and once I read the synopsis on the back of the book, I knew I wanted to give it a try.

I must say, I was very impressed by this novel. It dealt with the very heavy themes of religion and life. It was wonderful to see the numerous battles between the two main characters about proving the existence of God. Science vs. religion has always been a difficult topic for me. I have tried to wrap my head around it for many years. This novel seemed to draw no conclusions...making wonderful points for both sides many times.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who constantly questions life in general. One can not deny the massive impacts that both sides (science and religion) have made throughout history. Maybe we should consider merging the two to try and help explain WHY things are the way they are. ( )
  rsplenda477 | Jul 11, 2013 |
Another Updike novel. This is one of his average novels, which makes it a bit better than most books you could read today. ( )
  Arctic-Stranger | Mar 22, 2007 |
From Library Journal
Updike's 12th novel continues his portrayal of middle America in all its social, religious, and cultural ramifications. Divinity professor Roger Lambert is visited by Dale Kohler, an earnest young student who wants a grant to prove the existence of God by computer. The visit disrupts Roger's ordinary existence, bringing him into contact with the wild and sexy Verna (his half-sister's daughter), and leading to his wife's affair with Dale. Updike spends a great deal of time in this novel discussing religion, sex, and computers, not always to the advantage of the characters. There are some fine Updike touchesjust the right phrase or detailbut it still adds up to a rather lifeless work (perhaps intentionally so). Roger's is an unattractive character with whom we only occasionally become truly involved. Roger's Version is more Marry Me than Rabbit Is Rich. Thomas Lavoie, formerly with English Dept., Syracuse Univ., N.Y.
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  gnewfry | Feb 8, 2006 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
John Updikeprimary authorall editionscalculated
Verhoef, RienTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed

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To what purpose is this waste?
                    —Matthew 26.8.
O infinite majesty, even if you were not love, even if you were cold in your infinite majesty I could not cease to love you, I need something majestic to love.
                    —Kierkegaard, Journals XI2 A 154.
What if the result of the new hymn to the majesty of God should be a new confirmation of the hopelessness of all human activity?
                    —Karl Barth, "The Humanity of God."
god the wind as windless as the world behind a computer screen
                    —Jane Miller, "High Holy Days."
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I have been happy at the Divinity School.
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A born-again computer whiz kid bent on proving the existence of God on his computer meets a middle-aged divinity professor, Roger Lambert, who'd just as soon leave faith a mystery. Soon the computer hacker begins an affair with professor Lambert's wife -- and Roger finds himself experiencing deep longings for a trashy teenage girl. "From the Paperback edition."

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