“Daughter, Last Glimpse Of” (1973)
Reading John Updike’s Complete Stories
This series is a re-reading of John Updike’s short stories in the wake of the publication of “The Collected Early Stories” and “The Collected Later Stories,” the twin-volume set by the Library of America (2013), edited by Christopher Carduff. Updike wrote some 230 stories in five and a half decades. The commentaries include the Maple and Bech stories, most of which are excluded from the Library of America edition in anticipation of a subsequent volume collecting those. Contact the editor for questions, debates or corrections. A hyperlinked list of the compete stories appears below.
[“Daughter, Last Glimpse Of” was published in the November 5, 1973 issue of The New Yorker, collected in Problems, The Early Stories, and the Library of America’s Collected Early Stories.]
A father watches his daughter grow up then fly the coop, almost literally, with the “red-bearded harpsichord maker” who delivered her a rooster for the chicken coop she’d asked her father to build/ The chickens she’d acquired had stopped laying eggs. The rooster was to prod them to be productive again. It does, but it is also the catalyst of her departure.
Written during that period when Updike’s marriage was finally dissolving, and his his children were the late adolescents and young adults who could witness it all, the story carries the heavy weigh of something forlorn, a regret, about time lost, experiences lived too briefly.
Joy is Geoffrey’s and Eileen’s eldest. Just before leaving with the harpsichord-maker, she’d asked her parents how to jitterbug. They couldn’t tell her. “But how, she seemed now to be asking, amazed, could two people unable even to jitterbug manage to get together and have me?” It’s a silly question to ask, a bit of a contrivance at the beginning of the story, but somewhat in keeping with the slightly esoteric girl we are about to learn a few things about. She likes her world just so. She has her assumptions. She does not like them trifled with. She will do what she will do, then she won’t. Her father admires her, loves her, does whatever she asks, indulging her terrible driving, her wish for a hen house that she tends well at the beginning but eventually not so much.
Geoffrey watches her grow up, particularly at those crossroads of one’s life and others’ deaths when one can suddenly have a surge of maturity (or a retreat into infantilism). She surges. Just before Geoffrey’s mother dies of cancer, she visits the family, and Joy hugs her. “How big my daughter looked!–freckled, with sloping dancer’s shoulders, standing at the height of health beside the shrunken stoic wraith from whom she was descended. And for me it was as if, in one of those thrilling swift crossovers the good jitterbuggers could do, they had switched positions from the distant moment when my toddling infant daughter had fallen against a hot woodstove in Vermont and her grandmother, so calm the cigarette never left her mouth, applied ice and butter and soothing words to the scorched arm that must have felt, to the astonished, shrieking child, seized by Death itself.”
The image of the cigarette juts from that description like a dagger in his mother. The whole vision is a refraction of Geoffrey’s own sense of having a daughter with whom he will soon be switching places, if she lets him. Meanwhile Mark the oldest son, who appears to have something of a rivalry with his older sister, finds various reasons to bemoan her ways–her driving, her chicken coop, her getting his brother Ethan “all stirred up about sex.”
Then she leaves. That’s around the time when Joy, too, smoked. After she’d sat in her room sewing instead of going out with boys, after she’d helped with the dishes then stopped. “She had lived in a world of her own making, with a serenity that floated dishes onto the table without a click.” She was bound to leave. Her father did not see it coming. “As to Joy’s departure, it was hurried and at the time not very real to the rest of us.” You don’t get the impression that Geoffrey was particularly connected to his daughter so much as glad that she could lead her life on her own, so long as he could see her, feel his paternalism.
The rooster crows in the morning. “He never moderates his joy,” though Geoffrey grows deaf to him. “That must be the difference between soulless creatures and human beings: creatures find every dawn as remarkable as all the ones previous, whereas the soul grows calluses.” I’ not sure “remarkable” is the right word here, used as it is to set up the image that returns all of creation’s purpose to a man-centered view, which is incorrect, but very much the Updikean view. It gives his philosophical images a first-impression strength that doesn’t hold up. The sou’s calluses are so often self-inflicted. In “Daughter, Last Glimpse of,” there is a grabbing at a something being lost, but why the sense of loss is so complete is never explained: that’s the callus that Geoffrey appears to be responsible for, but does not tell us much about, except by suggestion.
John Updike: The Complete Stories (Click on Links for Summaries and Analyses)
|Ace In the Hole|
|Friends From Philadelphia|
|A Game of Botticelli|
|Tomorrow and Tomorrow and So Forth|
|Dentistry and Doubt|
|Snowing in Greenwich Village (The Maples)|
|The Kid's Whistling|
|Who Made Yellow Roses Yellow|
|Wife-wooing (The Maples)|
|Giving Blood (The Maples)|
|Twin Beds in Rome (The Maples)|
|The Bulgarian Poetess (Bech)|
|Bech in Rumania|
|Bech Takes Pot Luck|
|Rich in Russia (Bech)|
|Bech Enters Heaven|
|The Gun Shop|
|How to Love America and Leave It at the Same Time|
|Daughter, Last Glimpse Of|