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"Toward Evening" | John Updike's Complete Stories Summary Analysis

“Toward Evening” (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.

[The first story Updike wrote in Manhattan as a New Yorker staffer, in 1955, “Toward Evening” was published in the Feb. 11, 1956 issue of The New Yorker, collected in The Same Door, The Early Stories, and the Library of America’s Collected Early Stories.]

Two stories in one, neither quite a story as an impressionistic sketch with a weak stab at the metaphysical. John Updike, newly arrived in Manhattan, is marking his territory with evening observations of New York, the sort of piece he might have written for The New York’s Talk of the Town section.

First Rafe’s (that’s the character’s name: Rafe) bus ride home, and that glimpse of a, of course pretty, woman on the bus holding a copy of Proust’s A l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleurs, “Her face wore the enamelled look of a person who had emerged from a piece of fiction into the world of real decisions.” Rafe is less enamored by the “Negress” he’s left with, after the Proustian woman exits the bus, the “Negress,” so large, who’d gotten stuck entering the bus, so that Rafe had to push her in. (Updike remarking on the fatness of black women is not coincidental. Here’s Henry Bech, observing “wan islands of light where fat colored women waited with string shopping bags” as he rode the subway in “Bech Enters Heaven“).


Why Updike chose to refer to the black woman as a “Negress” is beyond me, but it anticipates the exchange between a black student and Henry Bech in “Bech Panics,” where the student asks Bech of his insistent use of the word, telling him it is no more accurate than her calling him a kike. But Bech doesn’t back down. Negress it remains. In “Toward Evening,” she’s not much of one: In the end, when he alighted at Eighty-fifth Street, the Negress had dwindled to the thought that he had never seen gloves like that before.”

Then home, where the small mobile he’d bought for his child is “not a success.” His wife disapproves. When he tells her of the “funny gloves” on the bus, she ignores him, though she’s cooking him his favorite dinner. Rafe Looks across the Hudson to the Palisades, at a giant advertising sign whose genesis Rafe imagines: “Thus the Spry sign (thus the river, thus trees, thus babies and sleep) came to be.”

Talk of the Town.

–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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