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A 2009 Booklist Editor’s Choice Selection
John Updike’s first collection of new short fiction since 2000 finds the author in a valedictory mood as he mingles narratives of his native Pennsylvania with stories of New England suburbia and of foreign travel.
“Personal Archaeology” considers life as a sequence of half-buried layers, and “The Full Glass” distills a lifetime’s happiness into one brimming moment of an old man’s bedtime routine. High-school class reunions, in “Fiftieth” and “The Road Home,” restore their hero to youth’s commonwealth where, as the narrator of the title story confides, “the self I value is stored, however infrequently I check on its condition.” Exotic locales encountered in the journeys of adulthood include Morocco, Florida, Spain, Italy, and India. The territory of childhood, with its fundamental, formative mysteries, is explored in “The Guardians,” “The Laughter of the Gods,” and “Kinderszenen.” Love’s fumblings among the bourgeoisie yield the tart comedy of “Free,” “Delicate Wives,” “The Apparition,” and “Outage.”
In sum, American experience from the Depression to the aftermath of 9/11 finds reflection in these glittering pieces of observation, remembrance, and imagination.
“Mr. Updike writes in these stories and poems with the quiet assurance of someone in complete control of his craft . . . These two volumes demonstrate that his skills in these two genres remained undiminished to the end. That, in pouring his life ‘into words,’ he not only preserved ‘the thing consumed,’ but also offered a lasting ‘toast to the visible world,’ which he commemorated with such ardor and precision.” –Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“Wistful and wickedly funny . . . Updike once described himself as ‘a literary spy within average, public-school, supermarket America.’ So he was . . . And these are his last smuggled dispatches, made all the more poignant for their finality.” –T. C. Boyle, The New York Times
“A haunting collage of heart-wrenching narratives [that] echo the melancholy of Chekhov, the romanticism of Wordsworth and the mournful spirit of Yeats.” –Robert Allen Papinchak, The Seattle Times
“Updike invites us into his story and walks us easily along; all is recognizable and reassuringly alive, but then–we’ve had no warning–we’re seized with a flooding fresh knowledge, in the same fashion that sadness or some ancient night remembrance can sometimes take us in its teeth.” –Roger Angell, The New Yorker
“He illuminated private lives and wrote so lovingly of the world . . . Nothing was beneath his careful attention.”
–Garrison Keillor, Salon.com
“Updike’s writing is breathtaking and a pure joy to read . . . He focused on the domestic details of life with the exquisite precision of a Vermeer.” –Madeleine M. Kunin, Huffingtonpost.com
“Here, then, on display one last time, are the cardinal virtues of a writer who bestrode the American literary landscape for more than half a century: a virtuosic talent for sensual description, and an almost Proustian capacity to absorb the reader in the quiddities of childhood and adolescence . . . This is a book full of reunions–with old lovers, with high school classmates, with aging friends . . . and full of men casting a wistful eye on girls and women who represent a vitality long gone.” –Adam Haslett, San Francisco Chronicle
“It is extraordinary to get this double-barreled farewell from so talented a writer.” –John Freeman, Los Angeles Times
“The beauty of his prose and the flick of his intelligence were unfaltering to the end.” –James Wolcott, Vanity Fair