Okay, one writer might have better stories, be arguably better travelled, more experienced, a real go getter, a prodigious mind, but will it be any better, any deeper, any more human or of the human condition? Yes, sure, there is craft, just as in making wine. But the quality of transformation, of water made into wine, is the life blood of literature. The assessment of a situation through a deeper longer lens... Dostoevsky suddenly pulls back, as he's been inclined to earlier ond telling the story of Alyosha, and gives us the Grand Inquisitor passage, the old Inquisitor being the embodiment of 'the letter killeth,' Christ silent, under lock and key, defending himself only through a kiss... It puts the meaning of the usual stuff of novels, money, passion, murder, trials, into a whole new light, by which the storyteller can, in a way, sit back and let the story happen. And maybe it suggests that we all are prone to that Christian situation, of being accused, accused by the great sticklers of societal rules and propriety, accused of... what? Not being clever enough? Being without enough means to keep up? Of being too passive? The Grand Inquisitor punishes, gleefully, and the Christian spirit quietly suffers under lock and key. (The book presents us with this great wild impossible passivity, on the part of Christ himself, of course--as a counter possibility to much of what organized humanity is up to--and if we, as readers, do not take this passivity in, then there is a lot of the book, the plot, the characters that we simply will not get. It's an essential flavor, in keeping the 'sudden flooding wind' in the storyteller's preface.) The story, the nuts and bolts, is transformed, into soulful substance to be held to the light to go with our daily bread, a rainbow's dance when sun meets a passing heavy rain.
Dostoevsky doesn't ask too much of us. The passage is a creation of Ivan, the skeptic, relayed on to us by the narrator as the words out of a certain character. The author is not suddenly turning everyone into suffering Christs and saints unfairly bearing the burden of judgmental self-interested humanity.
Updike, I suppose, is far more realistic, with less high expectation, and gives us little incremental human awakenings, like that of the kid walking out of the A&P in a pique of solidarity with girls in swimsuits (though we don't know where this will lead him), or the young husband feeling, typically, desire with a woman different than his pregnant wife in a room with angles of 'threatening verticality.' Updike doesn't go as deep as to suggest Christ in his canvas. And this suits him, the kind of wine he is making.
But there is Dostoevsky, asking us to keep the deeper stuff in at least the backs of our minds, as we read of Mitya and Alyosha and precocious school children, as we muddle on in our own lives. It is said he wrote that book out of a desire to make propaganda for a renewed spiritual life in Russia, but somehow I don't blame him for doing so, as he touches upon some issues that other writers would find wayyy too hot to handle, wayyy too ambitious.
It's as if Dostoevsky is asking us, what is this sadness that comes over us, when our spirit, or some fine thing within us, is being neglected, swept under the rug...
As with wine, a great book relaxes, makes us feel better.
It's not easy, to just be a writer. Updike seems to be in balance, a perfect terroir for what he writes about, the right intelligence, clever, with craft, a great story teller. One thinks of his sex scenes. He is, of course, different than Dostoevsky, who likes comes from the perfect terroir for what he writes about, the right sort of inner conflicts, the personal history. It's as if the expression is all there, inherent in the vine, and all that has to happen is the writing itself. Is the writing abstract, unconnected, springing from a foreign imagination?
How does weather for vines, growing conditions, translate over upon the human, a writer being an expression, outward, brought forth, of the thinking creature, who does so much through thoughts and words. What kinds of catastrophes and blights, along with the sun, the gentle breeze to keep the bugs off, the cool night, what kind of maturity is necessary? Old vines, poor soil, deep roots, the right exposure... and anything can go wrong. A hand picking of each grape at optimal ripeness, at just the right time for the tannins, which have risen within the plant to protect itself and its tempting fruit to invaders... And no, don't put it all in soulless hygenic stainless steel tanks out of which all wine comes out tasting the same... Let gravity, let old wood, let the character of the cellar sink in as thing happen, as nature and the moon stirs the pot...
It's not a bad thing for a writer to tell the story of becoming, being a writer. Just as a wine from one place should have that unique character individual to it, say, Puligny Montrachet as opposed to Meursault. Hemingway is telling that story, and of course he had the confidence to know it all along, that he was a writer, becoming one, sustaining it. And so his stories acknowledge defeat, destruction or being broken but not defeated, stuff like that, as a shier writer, less certain, might more ease into it, a more sustained thing, an organic cycle, to put into terms the stuff one goes through, the feelings of low and anxious things, along with the rest. The obligation is the same, to write, to tell the story of how it happens.