The Coup by John Updike

Steve Sailer praises this book as Updike’s best. Here’s an excerpt:

Mr. Cunningham, freshly reinforced by his bottled cohort, pursued his interesting question, which was, “What do you make of our American colored people?”

I had already enough converse with the disciples of Elijah Muhammad to hear the word “colored” as strange, but this strangeness was swallowed by the expanding strangeness of the preceding “our.” I looked at my feet, for I was travelling in treacherous territory. My search for an answer was needless, for Mr. Cunningham was providing it.

“What can we do,” he was asking me, “to help these people? They move into a nice neighborhood and turn it into a jungle. You pour millions of state money in and it goes up in smoke. Our American cities are being absolutely destroyed. Detroit used to be a great town. They’ve turned it into a hellhole, you get mugged by these kids right in Hudson’s, the downtown is a wasteland. Chicago’s going the same way. Hyde Park, all around the university, these lovely homes, a white girl can’t walk her dog after supper without a knife in her stocking. The Near North Side’s a little better, but two blocks in from the Lake you’re taking your life in your hands. Why do you think I moved the family up to Oshkosh? I lost forty grand a year by leaving the city. But hell, the rates on real estate were going out of sight, the only way to get your money out of some of those neighborhoods was burn ’em down. Cars, anybody who keeps a car on the street should have his head examined. They wouldn’t just steal ’em, they’d smash ’em up compure spite. What’s eating the bastards? You’d love to know.”

Mrs. Cunningham returned with the water, in a glass with a silver rim, and I thought of desert water holes, the brackishness, the camel prints in the mud, the bacterial slime that somehow even across the burning sands manages to find its live way. Mr. Cunningham’s tone tightened a little, with his wife’s return. There was this flattering about his tirade: that he was addressing me as a fellow sufferer, that the heat of his grievance had burned away my visible color.

He went on, “I’ve had my knocks up here, trying to make a name coming in cold in the middle of life; but at least I’m not afraid my daughter’s going to be raped and don’t have to lock the car every time I stop to take a piss at a gas
station.”

“Frank,” Alice said. “Sorry, there, but I guess even over in the Sahara you know what a piss is.”

“Nous buvons le pissat,” I said, smiling.

“Exactly,” he said, slipping a glance of small triumph into his wife. “Anyway, where was I? Yeah, my question: What’s the solution for these people?”

“Provide them useful work?”

Made in all timidity, this suggestion seemed to tip him toward fury. His patchy look intensified, his hair fluffed straight up. “Christ, they won’t take the jobs there are, they’d rather rake in welfare. Your average Chicago jigaboo, he’s too smart to dirty his paws; if he can’t pimp or hustle drugs, or land some desk job with dingbat Daley, he’ll just get his woman pregnant and watch the cash roll in.”

“That is-what do you call it?-American individualism, is it not? And enterprise, of an unforeseen sort.”

He stared at me. He was beginning to see me. “Christ, if that’s enterprise, let’s give it all over to the Russians. They’ve got the answer. Concentration camps.”

[Later, Candy says to our black protagonist about her father:] “He thought you could tell him the secret, of how the blacks can be the way they are, of why they don’t love this country the way he does.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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