The Centaur, Updike’s third novel, won for him not only the National Book Award for 1964 but also serious consideration as a writer of important fiction. Despite the quibbling of the daily reviewers over what they perceived as the book’s excessive ingeniousness and its confusing interweaving of classical and realistic elements, its critical stature has risen steadily with Updike’s reputation. The book has been accorded various readings: Christian, mythological, pastoral, mock-epic, antipastoral. Critics have agonized over its mixed form or praised its stylistic inventiveness. Whatever the critical view of the novel, however, it is now perceived as providing Updike with a grounding for much of his later fiction. Echoes of stylistic experimentation as well as mythic overtones have characterized his work since the early 1960’s.
If Updike is correct in believing that his generation was not reared on the Bible and therefore turned to the Greek stories as the source of a more meaningful past, perhaps in The Centaur he not only has fashioned a novel but also has opened a fruitful new way to explore the complexity and tenuousness of modern life and discovered a unique link between past and present, providing a ground for meaning that is free from the inhibiting effects of religious and political connections.