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"Sons" | John Updike's Complete Stories Summary Analysis

“Sons” (1973)
Reading John Updike’s Complete Stories

(Click to order)

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). A comprehensive table of the complete stories with links to each story summary appears below. The commentaries include the Maple and Bech stories, most of which are excluded from the Library of America edition. Contact the editor for questions, debates or corrections. A hyperlinked list of the compete stories appears below.

[“Sons” was written in Ipswich in 1973, published in the April 21, 1973 issue of The New Yorker, collected in Problems, The Early Stories, and the Library of America’s Collected Early Stories.]

John Updike would have likely called this story “Fathers and Sons” had the title not been taken. It’s a memoir, some of it possibly imagined but none of it amounting to a story, broken into eight inventive vignettes about one son or another in the genealogical tree, going back well into the 19th century, beginning and ending with the author’s–let’s say the narrator’s–own high-strung teen-age son, “in this trying year of 1973.” Trying for the United States, but especially for Updike. He leaves the ironic line unexplained.


The scene moves to the narrator’s own childhood and the by-now overly familiar settings of his homes in Pennsylvania, his father the maternally affectionate teacher, the harsher mother, the fights between mother and father. Not yet half-way through the Updike oeuvre and he is already repeating himself profusely, down to the yearning for the Monday ride back to school in Shillington-Olinger, though neither is named in the story.

The narrator’s father has his own brief cameo as a young boy with a paper route, then back to the 1880s for his father, and a clue about the family predisposition for surliness: “his father’s old sorrow bore him down into depression, into hatred of life.” The narrator lifts us from the dark by bringing us back into the present, the young father watching his younger son triumph in a soccer game. Then more of the same, with three tableaux to go. It gets a bit dreary, predictable even with regards to the narrator’s older son, who’s never made more than a passing appearance before. “Our visitor, our prisoner.” It’s time to turn the page.

–P.T.

John Updike: The Complete Stories (Click on Links for Summaries and Analyses)

Title
Year Written
First Published
First Collected
Ace In the Hole
1954
New Yorker, April 9, 1955
The Same Door (1959)
Friends From Philadelphia
1954
New Yorker, Oct. 30, 1954
The Same Door (1959)
A Game of Botticelli
1954
The Liberal Context, Fall 1963
Collected Early Stories (2013)
Tomorrow and Tomorrow and So Forth
1955
New Yorker, Apr. 30, 1954
The Same Door (1959)
Dentistry and Doubt
1955
New Yorker, Oct. 29, 1955
The Same Door (1959)
Snowing in Greenwich Village (The Maples)
1955
New Yorker, Jan. 21, 1956
The Same Door (1959)
The Kid's Whistling
1955
New Yorker, Dec. 3, 1955
The Same Door (1959)
Toward Evening
1955
New Yorker, Feb. 11, 1956
The Same Door (1959)
Who Made Yellow Roses Yellow
1956
New Yorker, April 7, 1956
The Same Door (1959)
Wife-wooing (The Maples)
1960
New Yorker, March 12, 1960
Pigeon Feathers (1962)
Giving Blood (The Maples)
1963
New Yorker, April 6, 1963
The Music School (1966)
Twin Beds in Rome (The Maples)
1963
New Yorker, February 6, 1964
The Music School (1966)
The Bulgarian Poetess (Bech)
1964
New Yorker, March 13, 1965
Bech: A Book (1970)
Bech in Rumania
1966
New Yorker, Oct. 8, 1966
Bech: A Book (1970)
Bech Takes Pot Luck
1968
New Yorker, Oct. 7, 1968
Bech: A Book (1970)
Rich in Russia (Bech)
1969
New Yorker, Jan. 31, 1970
Bech: A Book (1970)
Bech Swings?
1969
New Yorker, Jan. 31, 1970
Bech: A Book (1970)
Bech Panics
1970
No magazine publication
Bech: A Book (1970)
Bech Enters Heaven
1970
No magazine publication
Bech: A Book (1970)
The Gun Shop
1972
New Yorker, Feb. 25, 1972
Problems (1979)
Believers
1972
Harper's, July 1972
Problems (1979)
How to Love America and Leave It at the Same Time
1972
New Yorker, Aug. 19, 1972
Problems (1979)
Nevada
1972
Playboy, January 1974
Problems (1979)
Sons
1973
New Yorker, April 21, 1973
Problems (1979)
Daughter, Last Glimpse Of
1973
New Yorker, November 5, 1973
Problems (1979)
Ethiopia
1973
New Yorker, Jan. 14, 1974
Problems (1979)
Transaction
1973
Oui, March 1974
Problems (1979)
Augustine's Concubine
1974
The Atlantic, April 1975
Problems (1979)
Except for most of the Maples stories and the Henry Bech stories, the summaries and analyses are based on the texts presented in the two-volume Library of America edition of the complete stories (2013).
 

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