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"The Kid's Whistling" | John Updike's Complete Stories Summary Analysis

“The Kid’s Whistling” (1955)
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), 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.

[Written in Oxford, England, and rewritten in Pennsylvania, “The Kid’s Whistling” was published in the Dec. 3, 1955 issue of The New Yorker, collected in The Same Door, The Early Stories, and the Library of America’s Collected Early Stories.]

As in “A Sense of Shelter” four years later, “The Kid’s Whistling” finds the protagonist cozy inside a place of work (as opposed to a school in “Shelter”) while it’s raining outside (it snows in “Shelter”), all of which the protagonist finds deliciously enjoyable” Rain was Roy’s favorite weather, and he never felt more at rest, more at home, than when working nights in his hot little room on the third floor of Herlihy’s–the department store stretching dark and empty under him, the radio murmuring, maybe the rain tapping on the black skylight, the engines shuttling back and forth in the Fourth Street fright yard, half a mile away.” The loveliness of the detail is as precise as the opening paragraph of “A Sense of Shelter,” one of Updike’s great feats of prose.


It’s the Christmas season. Roy is logging overtime hours at the toy counter of a department store. But the sanctum is not all his. He has a helper, Jack. Jack won’t stop whistling. Roy tries various stratagems to get him to stop, but he’s not confrontational. He’s painting a sign for the toy department, each letter requiring great care, almost a touch of artistry. Then his wife shows up. She seems more of an interruption than Jack. We remember the line in the opening paragraph: he feels more at home in his workshop than at home. She asks questions What’s this? What’s this for? When are you coming home? It’s a nagging accumulation of subtle bothers. “Don’t let me disturb you,” she tells him, feeling rejected. “Time and a half, you know. I can founder out on my own.”

Back at work, Roy notices that one of the latter letters he painted, while his wife was there and after she’d left, is “too plump, slightly out of scale and too close to the end.” He knew why the job was ruined: “The kid had stopped whistling.”

Funny, well observed, John O’Hara like, and as with most John O’Hara stories, a bit short of memorable. It’s one of those themed stories The New Yorker seemed happy to use in the run-up to the Christmas holiday, enough to please the magazine’s many department store advertisers.

–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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