Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Friday, May 6, 2011

John Updike: Two Short Stories

"Pigeon Feathers" (1962, 7 pages)
"A and P"  (1960, 5 pages)

Two John Updike Short Stories

John Updike (Reading, Pennsylvania, USA-1932 to 2009) is best known for his series of novels that began with Rabbit Run (1960).   Two of the four Rabbit novels won Pulitzer Prizes.    Updike also wrote lots of short stories and literary criticism.    Years ago I read his Rabbit novels.    Very recently I read his brilliant and very insightful introduction to a collection of three Henry Green novels.

I am glad I have now read two of his short stories.    They both have as their lead character a young American man from a humble background.    One of the young men is a grocery store check out clerk and the other lives and works on his parents farm.    Both young men are trying to figure out how to fit into the society in which they live.    Both men have conflicts with the authority figures in their lives.

"Pigeon Feathers" is the best of the two stories.    It centers on a young man raised on a farm.    His parents are far from fitting the stereotype of farmers.    His mother has a degree in chemistry and his father in classics.    The family has a very extensive library of the best of western culture.    The maternal grandmother also lives with them.   The young man in the story is beginning to seriously question the Christian faith in which he was raised.   In a very sad moment I read:

"He lost his appetite for reading. He was afraid of being ambushed again. In mystery novels people died like dolls being discarded; in science fiction enormities of space and time conspired to crush the humans; and even in P. G. Wodehouse he felt a hollowness, a turning away from reality that was implicitly bitter, and became explicit in the comic figures of futile clergymen."
Like in any traditionally structured short story, there is a conflict and resolution of the conflict followed by an explanation of the insight the man has received.  
"Pigeon Feathers" is a good story.   I have read numerous better ones in the last year but this is not a bad story at all.

"A and P" is about a young man working as a check out clerk in a grocery store.  (As a note of explanation, The A and P was a  now defunct chain of  grocery stores found over much of small town America.)     The man enjoys just one thing about his job.   That one thing is looking at the young women who come into the store.    His boss feels he has to say something like "quit talking with and flirting with the girls and pay more attention to your work!".   (This story is from a time before scanners codes and computerized check out terminals.)   Of course this sets up the conflict aspect of this traditional short story.     As the story ends the lead character seems to obtain a large insight into his future live or maybe it is just  the folly of many a young man whose hormones have taken over his mind.

Both of these stories are very traditional short stories with characters we understand, a conflict with a resolution and an account of the insight gained by the lead characters.   They both have the requisite drama.  

You can read both of these stories online HERE.

If you have never read any Updike, these short stories might be a good place to start.    I am glad I read them.  

Mel u

1 comment:

(Diane) Bibliophile By the Sea said...

I enjoyed all of the Updike books that I've read. It has only been 3 or 4, but hope to remedy this in the future.