“Giving Blood” (1963)
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.
[“Giving Blood” was published in the April 6, 1963 issue of The New Yorker, collected in The Music School, Too Far To Go, and The Maple Stories.]
The first Maple story that names Richard and Joan since “Snowing in Greenwich Village” more than seven years earlier–“Wife-wooing” in 1960 left them nameless–opens with the narrator’s emphatic and revealingly self-absorbed statement: “The Maples had been married now nine years, which is almost too long.” Too long for whom? The children? The wife? Of course not, as the next sentence, emphatically revealing of Richard’s mindset, tells us: “‘Goddamn it, goddamn it,’ Richard said to Joan, as they drove into Boston to give blood, ‘I drive this road five days a week and now I’m driving it again.”
The Maples are on their way to Boston on a Saturday to give blood for a distant cousin of Joan’s who might die. Richard is upset that his day off has been upended. Joan is upset that giving blood is upsetting Richard, who is making his disdain for his wife uncomfortably clear. Imagine how she feels, hearing this: “‘It’s your smugness that is really intolerable. Your knee-jerk liberalism I don’t mind. Your sexlessness I’ve learned to live with. But that wonderfully smug, New England – I suppose we needed it to get the country founded, but in the Age of Anxiety it really does gall.” Hard to forget, these lines. Joan tells him so.
We soon find out that it isn’t just the matter of a ruined Saturday that bothers him. He’s a ninny. He’s never given blood before. He’s scared, worried that it’ll hurt. Joan doesn’t answer. When he finds out he’s A positive, he asks where he’s “rare.” He’s not. Like his wife’s O positive, they’re as common as they come. That too bothers Richard.
They give blood. Updike’s descriptions of the blood pouring out are alive with scarlet emotions. There is almost a beauty in the giving. Richard sees it in his wife. He finds reasons to admire her, her calm, her fortitude. He is a boy next to her. But she’s been patient, caring. They go to a diner for pancakes:
‘Gee, I loved you back in the blood room.’ ‘I wonder why.’ ‘You were so brave.’ ‘So were you.’ ‘But I’m supposed to be. I’m paid to be. It’s the price of having a penis.’ ‘Shh.’‘Hey. I didn’t mean that about your being sexless.’
Richard then makes a promise never to dance with a certain women. Joan doesn’t care. He takes it as “permission” to screw around, and again he feels her smug, above it all. He wants her to fight. But it’s beneath her. The story ends on the same note of Richard’s resentment that started it when it comes time to pay: “I work like a bastard all week for you and those insatiable brats and at the end of it what do I have? One goddamn crummy wrinkled dollar.”
Joan tells him they’ll go dutch.
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|