“Toward Evening” (1955)
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.
[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.
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|