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By John Updike

During this antic riff on Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter, the Reverend Tom Marshfield, a latter-day Arthur Dimmesdale, is distributed west from his Midwestern parish in sexual shame. At a wilderness retreat devoted to leisure, activity, and religious renewal, this fortyish serial fornicator is needed to maintain a magazine whose thirty-one weekly entries represent the e-book you presently carry on your hand. In his splendidly overwrought kind he lays naked his soul and his past--his marriage to the daughter of his ethics professor, his affair together with his organist, his antipathetic conversations along with his senile father and his bisexual curate, his golfing rankings, his poker palms, his Biblical exegeses, and his smoldering wish for the directress of the retreat, the impregnable Ms. Prynne. A testomony for our times.

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Your accuracy tends to obscure. Y ou bring forw ard so m any details, all equally pertinent. I doubt w hether y o u w ish to inform . Y ou w an t to tell a story. Preferably b y nothing m ore than y o u r tone. A n d w e are supposed to accept yo u r flo w o f w o rd s— gratuitously curbed to m ake it sound m ore interesting— w ith the keen anticipation o f people w h o se lives are in vo lved , although the on ly thing that’s in vo lve d is yo u r craving to tell a story. In 4 O this y o u are like a child w h o d oesn ’t w ant to g o to bed.

As we w alk ed down from the little turret to H altnau, ou r souls w ere in perfect harm ony. T h e tur­ ret had united us in the w ish not to have to live in these disruptive tim es; yet w ith yo u r W endelgard tale you had deprived the past o f som ething o f its charm . So w hat else w as there to do but take o f f into the land o f caprice? T h e vines all around us w ere sh ow in g us the w a y. I suppose w e m ust have lo ok ed a bit like oxen decorated for the W hitsun festival w hen w e arrived at the V in eyard Inn d o w n b y the lake.

O r h o w else w o u ld y o u describe it, L ord Liszt? A p art from y o u , there w as o n ly one m an there w earin g a suit— the professor. R em em ber? I noticed him at once because he w as w earin g the kind o f suit that until then I had seen o n ly on our A ustro-F in n: double-breasted, palé beige, alm ost colorless, rem inis- 5í cent o f recycled paper. T h e suit o f our R u d o lf tends a little m ore to w ard the lem on y e llo w and the trendy. T h at o f the professor w as colorlessness itself.

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