When this classic collection of stories first appeared—in 1962, on the author’s thirtieth birthday—Arthur Mizener wrote in The New York Times Book Review: “Updike is a romantic [and] like all American romantics, that is, he has an irresistible impulse to go in memory home again in order to find himself. . . . The precise recollection of his own family-love, parental and marital, is vital to him; it is the matter in which the saving truth is incarnate. . . . Pigeon Feathers is not just a book of very brilliant short stories; it is a demonstration of how the most gifted writer of his generation is coming to maturity; it shows us that Mr. Updike’s fine verbal talent is no longer pirouetting, however gracefully, out of a simple delight in motion, but is beginning to serve his deepest insight.”
As Roger Lambert tells it, he, a middle-aged professor of divinity, is buttonholed in his office by Dale Kohler, an earnest young computer scientist who believes that quantifiable evidence of God’s existence is irresistibly accumulating. The theological-scientific debate that ensues, and the wicked strategies that Roger employs to disembarrass Dale of his faith, form the substance of this novel—these and the current of erotic attraction that pulls Esther, Roger’s much younger wife, away from him and into Dale’s bed. The novel, a majestic allegory of faith and reason, ends also as a black comedy of revenge, for this is Roger’s version—Roger Chillingworth’s side of the triangle described by Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter—made new for a disbelieving age.
A deftly satirical portrait of life and love in a suburban town as only Updike can paint it.
Updike's eighth novel, subtitled "A Romance" because, he says, "People don't act like that any more," centers on the love affair of a married couple in the Connecticut of 1962. Unfortunately, this is a couple whose members are married to other people. Suburban infidelity is familiar territory by now, but nobody knows it as well as Updike, and the book is written with the author's characteristic poetic sensibility and sly wit.
The Jewish American novelist Henry Bech—procrastinating, libidinous, and tart-tongued, his reputation growing while his powers decline—made his first appearance in 1965, in John Updike’s “The Bulgarian Poetess.” That story won the O. Henry First Prize, and it and the six Bech adventures that followed make up this collection. “Bech is the writer in me,” Updike once said, “creaking but lusty, battered but undiscourageable, fed on the blood of ink and the bread of white paper.” As he trots the globe, promotes himself, and lurches from one woman’s bed to another’s, Bech views life with a blend of wonder and cynicism that will make followers of the lit-biz smile with delight and wince in recognition.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
Winner of the 1982 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
Ten years after RABBIT REDUX, Harry Angstrom has come to enjoy prosperity as the Chief Sales Representative of Springer Motors. The rest of the world may be falling to pieces, but Harrry's doing all right. That is, until his son returns from the West, and the image of an old love pays a visit to his lot....
Gertrude and Claudius are the “villains” of Hamlet: he the killer of Hamlet’s father and usurper of the Danish throne, she his lusty consort, who marries Claudius before her late husband’s body is cold. But in this imaginative “prequel” to the play, John Updike makes a case for the royal couple that Shakespeare only hinted at. Gertrude and Claudius are seen afresh against a background of fond intentions and family dysfunction, on a stage darkened by the ominous shadow of a sullen, erratic, disaffected prince. “I hoped to keep the texture light,” Updike said of this novel, “to move from the mists of Scandinavian legend into the daylight atmosphere of the Globe. I sought to narrate the romance that preceded the tragedy.”
As a present to John Updike on his fiftieth birthday, and as a treat for his readers, his first book, a collection of light verse originally published twenty-five years ago, is brought back into print, with an author’s foreword and some small revisions.
Many of these poems were written when the author was a young art student in England and a “Talk of the Town” reporter for The New Yorker, which published over forty of them. They deal with the quiddities of things, the oddities of science, quirks of American life (especially as reported in Life magazine during those smiling Eisenhower years), and moments of epiphany in literature and nature. A number—“Ex-Basketball Player,” “Superman,” “Mirror,” “Quilt”—have been frequently reprinted in anthologies. All show a sharp ear, a fond eye, and an active though not always light-hearted fancy. Written mainly to amuse, Updike’s early verse was also, as his foreword states, “a way of dealing with the universe, an exercise of the Word.” Admirers who know him mostly through his fiction should be delighted to encounter what he calls “these old evidences of my own high spirits.” The Carpentered Hen, in recent years a hard-to-get collector’s item, now again.
unhinges her wings,
abandons her nest
of splinter, and sings.
In John Updike’s second collection of assorted prose he comes into his own as a book reviewer; most of the pieces picked up here were first published in The New Yorker in the 1960s and early ’70s. If one word could sum up the young critic’s approach to books and their authors it would be “generosity”: “Better to praise and share,” he says in his Foreword, “than to blame and ban.” And so he follows his enthusiasms, which prove both deserving and infectious: Kierkegaard, Proust, Joyce, Dostoevsky, and Hamsun among the classics; Borges, Nabokov, Grass, Bellow, Cheever, and Jong among the contemporaries. Here too are meditations on Satan and cemeteries, travel essays on London and Anguilla, three very early “golf dreams,” and one big interview. Picked-Up Pieces is a glittering treasury for every reader who likes life, books, wit—and John Updike.
John Updike’s twentieth novel, like his first, The Poorhouse Fair, takes place in one day, a day that contains much conversation and some rain. The seventy-nine-year-old painter Hope Chafetz, who in the course of her eventful life has been Hope Ouderkirk, Hope McCoy, and Hope Holloway, answers questions put to her by a New York interviewer named Kathryn, and recapitulates, through stories from her career and many marriages, the triumphant, poignant saga of postwar American art. In the evolving relation between the two women, interviewer and subject move in and out of the roles of daughter and mother, therapist and patient, predator and prey, supplicant and idol. The scene is central Vermont; the time, the early spring of 2001.
“The idea of verse, of poetry, has always, during forty years spent working primarily in prose, stood at my elbow, as a standing invitation to the highest kind of verbal exercise—the most satisfying, the most archaic, the most elusive of critical control. In hotel rooms and airplanes, on beaches and Sundays, at junctures of personal happiness or its opposite, poetry has comforted me with its hope of permanence, its packaging of flux.”
Thus John Updike writes in introducing his Collected Poems. The earliest poems here date from 1953, when Updike was twenty-one, and the last were written after he turned sixty. Almost all of those published in his five previous collections are included, with some revisions. Arranged in chronological order, the poems constitute, as he says, “the thread backside of my life’s fading tapestry.” An ample set of notes at the back of the book discusses some of the hidden threads, and expatiates upon a number of fine points.
Nature—tenderly intricate, ruthlessly impervious—is a constant and ambiguous presence in these poems, along with the social observation one would expect in a novelist. No occasion is too modest or too daily to excite metaphysical wonder, or to provoke a lyrical ingenuity of language. Yet even the wittiest of the poems are rooted to the ground of experience and fact. “Seven Odes to Seven Natural Processes” attempt to explicate the physical world with a directness seldom attempted in poetry. Several longer poems—“Leaving Church Early,” “Midpoint”—use autobiography to proclaim the basic strangeness of existence.
To the hero of the title story of this collection, all of England has the glow of an afterlife: “A miraculous lacquer lay upon everything, beading each roadside twig . . . each reed of thatch, each tiny daisy trembling in the grass.” All of these stories, each in its own way, partake of this glow, as life beyond middle age is explored and found to have its own exquisite dearness. As death approaches, existence takes on, for some of Updike’s aging characters, a translucence, a magical fragility; vivid memory and casual misperception lend the mundane an antic texture, and the backward view, lengthening, acquires a certain grandeur. Here is a world where wonder stubbornly persists, and fresh beginnings almost outnumber losses.
In this follow-up to Bech: A Book, Henry Bech, the priapic, peripatetic, and unproductive Jewish American novelist, returns with seven more chapters from his mock-heroic life. He turns fifty in a confusing blend of civic and erotic circumstances while publicizing himself in Australia and Canada. He marries a shiksa and travels with her to Israel, where she falls in love with the land, and to Scotland, where he does. And—sweating buckets! thinking big! minting miracles!—he writes an ingeniously tawdry bestseller. Bech’s aesthetic and moral embarrassments reveal acid truths about both his trade and our times.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
The theme of trust, betrayed or fulfilled, runs through this collection of short stories: Parents lead children into peril, husbands abandon wives, wives manipulate husbands, and time undermines all. Love pangs, a favorite subject of the author, take on a new urgency as earthquakes, illnesses, lost wallets, and deaths of distant friends besiege his aging heroes and heroines. One man loves his wife’s twin, and several men love the imagined bliss of their pasts; one woman takes an impotent lover, and another must administer her father’s death. Bourgeois comforts and youthful convictions are tenderly seen as certain to erode: “Man,” as one of these stories concludes, “was not meant to abide in paradise.”
Here is the collection of nonfiction pieces that John Updike was compiling when he died in January 2009. It opens with a self-portrait of the writer in winter, a Prospero who, though he fears his most dazzling performances are behind him, reveals himself in every sentence to be in deep conversation with the sources of his magic. It concludes with a moving meditation on a world without religion, without art, and on the difficulties of faith in a disbelieving age. In between are pieces on Peanuts, Mars, and the songs of Cole Porter, a pageant of scenes from early Massachusetts, and a good deal of Updikean table talk. At the heart of the volume are dozens of book reviews from The New Yorker and illustrated art writings from The New York Review of Books. Updike’s criticism is gossip of the highest sort. We will not hear the likes of it again.
(Book Jacket Status: Jacketed)
Collected together for the first time in hardcover, these eighteen classic stories from across John Updike’s career form a luminous chronicle of the life and times of one marriage in all its rich emotional complexity.
In 1956, Updike published a story, “Snowing in Greenwich Village,” about a young couple, Joan and Richard Maple, at the beginning of their marriage. Over the next two decades, he returned to these characters again and again, tracing their years together raising children, finding moments of intermittent happiness, and facing the heartbreak of infidelity and estrangement. Seventeen Maples stories were collected in 1979 in a paperback edition titled Too Far to Go, prompted by a television adaptation. Now those stories appear in hardcover for the first time, with the addition of a later story, “Grandparenting,” which returns us to the Maples’s lives long after their wrenching divorce.
From the Hardcover edition.
Museums and Women gathers twenty-nine short stories from the 1960s and early 1970s. It is John Updike’s most various collection, a book as full of departures and surprises as the historical period that produced them. Some stories, such as the title piece, have the tone and personality of essays. Others objectify the chimeras of middle-class life, especially life in a fictional New England enclave called Tarbox. The illustrated jeux d’esprit in the section called “Other Modes” place Updike somewhere between Robert Benchley and Donald Barthelme as a toymaker in prose. Crowning the collection are five scenes from the marriage of Richard and Joan Maple, a story sequence with the narrative interest and cumulative power of a novel.
John Updike’s first collection of new short fiction since the year 2000, My Father’s Tears finds the author in a valedictory mood as he mingles narratives of his native Pennsylvania with stories of New England suburbia and of foreign travel.
“Personal Archaeology” considers life as a sequence of half-buried layers, and “The Full Glass” distills a lifetime’s happiness into one brimming moment of an old man’s bedtime routine. High-school class reunions, in “The Walk with Elizanne” and “The Road Home,” restore their hero to youth’s commonwealth where, as the narrator of the title story confides, “the self I value is stored, however infrequently I check on its condition.” Exotic locales encountered in the journeys of adulthood include Morocco, Florida, Spain, Italy, and India. The territory of childhood, with its fundamental, formative mysteries, is explored in “The Guardians,” “The Laughter of the Gods,” and “Kinderszenen.” Love’s fumblings among the bourgeoisie yield the tart comedy of “Free,” “Delicate Wives,” “The Apparition,” and “Outage.”
In sum, American experience from the Depression to the aftermath of 9/11 finds reflection in these glittering pieces of observation, remembrance, and imagination.
In the Beauty of the Lilies begins in 1910 and traces God’s relation to four generations of American seekers, beginning with Clarence Wilmot, a clergyman in Paterson, New Jersey. He loses his faith but finds solace at the movies, respite from “the bleak facts of life, his life, gutted by God’s withdrawal.” His son, Teddy, becomes a mailman who retreats from American exceptionalism, religious and otherwise, into a life of studied ordinariness. Teddy has a daughter, Esther, who becomes a movie star, an object of worship, an All-American goddess. Her neglected son, Clark, is possessed of a native Christian fervor that brings the story full circle: in the late 1980s he joins a Colorado sect called the Temple, a handful of “God’s elect” hastening the day of reckoning. In following the Wilmots’ collective search for transcendence, John Updike pulls one wandering thread from the tapestry of the American Century and writes perhaps the greatest of his later novels.
Rabbit, Run is the book that established John Updike as one of the major American novelists of his—or any other—generation. Its hero is Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom, a onetime high-school basketball star who on an impulse deserts his wife and son. He is twenty-six years old, a man-child caught in a struggle between instinct and thought, self and society, sexual gratification and family duty—even, in a sense, human hard-heartedness and divine Grace. Though his flight from home traces a zigzag of evasion, he holds to the faith that he is on the right path, an invisible line toward his own salvation as straight as a ruler’s edge.
Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction
A harvest and not a winnowing, this volume collects 103 stories, almost all of the short fiction that John Updike wrote between 1953 and 1975. “How rarely it can be said of any of our great American writers that they have been equally gifted in both long and short forms,” reads the citation composed for John Updike upon his winning the 2006 Rea Award for the Short Story. “Contemplating John Updike’s monumental achievement in the short story, one is moved to think of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry James, Ernest Hemingway, and perhaps William Faulkner—writers whose reputations would be as considerable, or nearly, if short stories had been all that they had written. From [his] remarkable early short story collections . . . through his beautifully nuanced stories of family life [and] the bittersweet humors of middle age and beyond . . . John Updike has created a body of work in the notoriously difficult form of the short story to set beside those of these distinguished American predecessors. Congratulations and heartfelt thanks are due to John Updike for having brought such pleasure and such illumination to so many readers for so many years.”
More than three decades have passed since the events described in John Updike’s The Witches of Eastwick. The three divorcées—Alexandra, Jane, and Sukie—have left town, remarried, and become widows. They cope with their grief and solitude as widows do: they travel the world, to such foreign lands as Canada, Egypt, and China, and renew old acquaintance. Why not, Sukie and Jane ask Alexandra, go back to Eastwick for the summer? The old Rhode Island seaside town, where they indulged in wicked mischief under the influence of the diabolical Darryl Van Horne, is still magical for them. Now Darryl is gone, and their lovers of the time have aged or died, but enchantment remains in the familiar streets and scenery of the village, where they enjoyed their lusty primes as free and empowered women. And, among the local citizenry, there are still those who remember them, and wish them ill. How they cope with the lingering traces of their evil deeds, the shocks of a mysterious counterspell, and the advancing inroads of old age, form the burden of Updike’s delightful, ominous sequel.