In John Updike's later stories, his signature protagonist―a onetime small-town Pennsylvania boy deeply moved by art, sex, faith, and the mystery of existence―arrives at middle age to find that the world remains a vale of soul-making.
In John Updike's later stories, his signature protagonist―a onetime small-town Pennsylvania boy deeply moved by art, sex, faith, and the mystery of existence―arrives at middle age to find that the world remains a vale of soul-making. In some of these stories he is balancing two families, the one that he started in his twenties with his former college sweet-heart and the one he has just married into. In others he is traveling―to Italy or Greece, Ireland or England; to Egypt, Ethiopia, or Morocco; to the world of his personal past or to some other sunken Atlantis―which heightens sensations and enlarges his sense of time, distance, and life's possibilities. He encounters feral cats and near-fatal bee stings, prostitutes and plastic surgeons, omniscient Scottish caddies and sunglass-wearing Spanish policía. He improves his golf game, his German, and his portfolio. He inherits property, keeps his own counsel, and loses his wallet and his appendix. And he grows older.
Updike's aging heroes are citizens of universe that is expanding ever outward, dismayed by modern cosmology's insistence that the future holds not a second Big Bang―and another, perhaps better, chance for Life―but only a further thinning-out of reality. This, like so much else in recent thought, is at odds with their churchgoer's faith that life has pattern and purpose, that beginnings knit tightly with endings and crate stories with hearing, worth telling, worth living. Despite all, they remain prey to moments of wonder, as when, one morning in the rural south of England, one of them observe the 'a miraculous lacquer lay upon everything, breading each roadside twig, each reed of thatch in the cottage roofs, each tiny daisy trembling in the grass,' as if with the glow of an afterlife.
Of the eighty-four stories gathered here, fifty-three first appeared in The New Yorker. Most were revised by the author for his collections Problems (1979), Trust Me (1987), The Afterlife (1994), Licks of Love (2000), and My Father's Tears (2009). All were written from 1976 to 2008, when Updike was in his mid-forties to mid-seventies, and are arranged here, for the first time, in order in which they were completed. Each is offered in its latest, definitive text, and some incorporate posthumous corrections found in Updike's personal copies of his books. A companion Library of America volume, Collected Early Stories, gathers stories written from 1953 to 1975.
Christopher Carduff, editor, has been a consulting editor at The Library of America since 2006. He is the editor of John Updike's posthumous collections Higher Gossip: Essays and Criticism and Always Looking: Essays on Art.
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