have lost his faith when the battle isnover but has clearly been defeated onnthe field. In playing the Devil’s advocate,nRoger, like Chillingworth, turnsnhimself into the Devil but unlike Chillingworthnsuffers no final penitence.nPaula (Pearl), the truth-teller, callsnhim the “Bad man”; Verna (Spring),nthe niece he debauches, says that he isnevil.nReaders of Updike’s past work knownhow important Karl Barth is to him,nand Barth is central to this novel,nperhaps in a different context. Rogernclaims initially that he has been anhard-core fideist since the age of 15nand that he has buried his beliefs tonkeep them safe. He understands Barth,nhis “own rascally pet,” to mean thatnonly by placing God totally on thenother side of the humanly understandablen{totaliter aliter) can final safety fornHim be secured. (Does God need ournprotection? He comes to us as Henchooses in revelation and redemption;n”There is no way from us to God.” Bynhis nature man is flesh and determinednto perish.) Barth “would have regardednDale’s project as the most futile andninsolent sort of natural theology.”nMan has freely cast himself into chaosnthrough sin.nDale’s answer to Roger’s Barthiannview is crucial: “Your God sounds likena nice safe unfindable God.” Thenhopelessness of all human activity thatnflowed from the concept of the whollynOther is the perfect rationalization fornRoger to do exactly as he pleases. Itnpleases him to respond to his Barthianngestalt in two curiously compatiblenways. One, he commits deliberatenearthly abominations to show how infinitenthe chasm is between Heavennand earth: incest, abortion, adultery,npornography, the corruption of theninnocent, the destruction of another’snfaith. Because he is so totally selfcentered,nthe incest motif is emphasizednin his sexual relations with hisnniece and, more importantly, in hisnpassionate desire for Edna, hisnhalf-sister—more a kind of twin, sincentheir father planted them in two differentnwomen at about the same time.nTwo, Roger is agnostic and in thisnmost resembles Satan. He is afraid ofnthe earth and hates life, an “abortivento-do.” He values his escape from thenministry and from “the common incurablenmuddle and woe.” He doesnnot want his “hot Barthian nugget”ndragged into the light of day.nRoger is an utterly hateful man,nsingular among Updike’s characters.nHe confesses to having a dark side (isnEdna the light side?); when angry hengenerates smoke. To him the hereticsnare much more pleasant, agreeable,nand personable than the orthodox.nEvery living creed is grotesque. Dalenaccuses him of being a member of thenDevil’s party, and he certainly fitsnDale’s description of the Devil asndoubt, the one who makes us “spurnnthe life we’ve been given.” The sin ofnabortion looms large in the text, particularlynafiFeeting Updike’s diction.nAnyone (including God) who tries tonexplain the meaning of life is an “oldnbluffer.” Roger destroys everyone withnwhom he comes in contact, exceptnEsther, who turns out to be quite ansurprise to him. The environment, asnhe describes it, is constantly gray,novercast, and threatening. None of thentheologians at the university can bendescribed as believers; those we knownanything about have the morals ofnrandy tomcats. The major question ofnthe novel is expressed in one of thenfour epigraphs. Was it waste, thisnpouring of ointment by the woman ofnBethany on the Savior, in an acknowledgmentnof his death and resurrectionn(Matthew 26:8)? While the book isnconsciously framed by holy daysn(Thanksgiving, Christmas, Epiphany,nLent), there is no attention paid tonEaster. The New Testament, with itsnpersuasive picture of our warm, caring,ncharming, human God might asnwell not exist as far as Roger is concerned.nBarth is his Scripture; henlearns from him that all human activitynis hopeless and that Kierkegaard’snnew hymn of love to the infinite majestynof God confirms the chasm betweennHeaven and earth. For all practicalnpurposes, the God of Scripturenceases to be. The world belongs to thengreat prince Satan.nThis is Roger’s version, and it mustnremain clear in the reader’s mind thatnRoger has been doing all the talking. Isnit Updike’s version? A link between thentwo can be drawn. Both are brilliantnand clever. Both make the same diagnosisnof the terrible failure of liberalnmodernism. Both use diction that isnawesome in its variety and texture.nBoth are drawn to Karl Barth, whonnnappears to be central to their religiousnthinking. It seems that the claim thatnUpdike is a Christian novelist is on thenline. Despite his ambiguous stancentoward marriage and despite his continuingnaddiction to pornography, thenclaim is a real one: He has never beennvery Incarnational in spirit, but he hasnnever been able to let God alone,ncoming back to Him repeatedly, almostnJacob-like as he wrestles . . .nwith what? Is this book a watershed, asnMarry Me was?nBut in the final instance, Updikenand Roger are not alike. Roger’s Versionnis one of Updike’s two or threenmost important novels because in it henhas taken on the Devil and exposednhim for what he is: cruel, clever, ablento quote Scripture (Barth), cynical,nand world-weary beyond bearing.nOn the other hand, if Roger is thenDevil or of the Devil’s party and thenDevil is the Father of Lies, what are wenthen to make of this entire work?nPerhaps Dale and Esther are not at allnlike Roger’s version of them. And sonfor everything else. If Roger is fromnstart to finish an unreliable narrator,nthe reader finds himself in a prettynkettie of fish. Or is that in itself thenkey? Esther’s version, in that case.nDale’s version, and more to the point,nUpdike’s version would be considerablyndifferent in the way each wouldnaddress the question in Matthew, “Tonwhat purpose is this waste?”nDECEMBER 19871 47n