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). 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.
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|