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  • Written by John Updike
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Short Stories and a Sequel, "Rabbit Remembered"

Written by John UpdikeAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by John Updike


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On Sale: December 18, 2007
Pages: 384 | ISBN: 978-0-307-41584-4
Published by : Random House Random House Group
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In this brilliant late-career collection, John Updike revisits many of the locales of his early fiction: the small-town Pennsylvania of Olinger Stories, the sandstone farmhouse of Of the Farm, the exurban New England of Couples and Marry Me, and Henry Bech’s Manhattan of artistic ambition and taunting glamour. To a dozen short stories spanning the American Century, the author has added a novella-length coda to his quartet of novels about Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom. Several strands of the Rabbit saga come together here as, during the fall and winter holidays of 1999, Harry’s survivors fitfully entertain his memory while pursuing their own happiness up to the edge of a new millennium. Love makes Updike’s fictional world go round—married love, filial love, feathery licks of erotic love, and love for the domestic particulars of Middle American life.


The Women Who Got Away

Pierce Junction was an isolated New Hampshire town somewhat dignified by
the presence of a small liberal-arts college; we survived by clustering
together like a ball of snakes in a desert cave. The Sixties had taught us
the high moral value of copulation, and we were slow to give up on an
activity so simultaneously pleasurable and healthy. Still, you couldn’t
sleep with everybody: we were bourgeoisie, responsible, with jobs and
children, and affairs demanded energy and extracted wear and tear. We
hadn’t learned yet to take the emotion out of sex. Looking back, the
numbers don’t add up to what an average college student now manages
in four years. There were women you failed ever to sleep with; these, in
retrospect, have a perverse vividness, perhaps because the contacts, in
the slithering ball of snakes, were so few that they have stayed distinct.

“Well, Martin,” Audrey Lancaster murmured to me toward the end of a summer
cruise on a boat hired out of Portsmouth in celebration of somebody or
other’s fortieth birthday, “I see what they say about you, at last.” The
“at last” was a dig of sorts, and the “they” was presumably female in
gender. I wondered how much conversation went on, and along lines how
specific, among the wives and divorcées of our set. I had been standing
there by the rail, momentarily alone, mellow on my portion of California
Chablis, watching the Piscataqua River shakily reflect the harbor lights
as the boat swung to dock and the loudspeaker system piped Simon and
Garfunkel into the warm, watery night.

My wife was slow-dancing on the forward deck with her lover, Frank Greer.
Audrey had materialized beside me and my hand went around her waist as if
we might dance, too. There my hand stayed, and, like the gentle buzz you
get from a frayed appliance cord, the reality of her haunch burned through
to my fingers and palm. She was a solid, smooth-faced woman, so
nearsighted that she moved with a splay-footed pugnacity, as if something
she didn’t quite see might knock her over. Her contact lenses were always
getting lost, in somebody’s lawn or at the back of her eyeballs. She had
married young and was a bit younger than the rest of us. You had to love
Audrey, seeing her out on the tennis court in frayed denim cut-offs, with
her sturdy brown legs and big, squinty smile, taking a swing and missing
the ball completely. Her waist was smooth and flexible in summer cotton,
and, yes, she was right, for the first time in all our years of
acquaintance I sensed her as a potential mate, as a piece of the cosmic
puzzle that might fit my piece.

But I also felt that, basically, she didn’t care for me, not enough to
come walking through all of adultery’s risks and spasms of guilt, all
those hoops of flame. She distrusted me, the way you distrust a
competitor. We were both clowns, bucking to be elected Funniest in the
Class. Further, she was taken, doubly: not only married, to a man called
Spike, with the four children customary for our generation, but involved
in a number of murky flirtations or infatuations, including one with my
best friend, Rodney Miller–if a person could be said to have same-sex
friends in our rather doctrinairely heterosexual enclave. She had a nice
way of drawling out poisonous remarks, and said now, to me, “Shouldn’t you
go tell Jeanne and Frank the boat is about to dock? They might get
arrested by the Portsmouth fuzz for public indecency.”

I said, “Why me? I’m not the cruise director.”

Jeanne was my wife. Her love for Frank, in the twisted way of things back
then, helped bind me to her: I felt so sorry for her, having to spend most
of her hours with me and the children when her heart was elsewhere. She
had been raised a French Catholic, and there was something noble for her
about suffering and self-denial; her invisible hairshirt kept her torso
erect as a dancer’s and added to her beauty in my eyes. I didn’t like
Audrey mocking her. Or did I? Perhaps my feelings were more primitive,
more stupidly possessive, than I knew at the time. I tightened my grip on
Audrey’s waist, approaching a painful pinch, then let go, and went forward
to where Jeanne and Frank, the music stopped, looked as if they had just
woken up, with bloated, startled faces. Frank Greer had been married, to a
woman named Winifred, until rather recently in our little local history.
Divorce, which had been flickering at our edges for a decade while our
vast pool of children slowly bubbled up through the school grades toward,
we hoped, psychological health, was still rare, and sat raw on Frank, like
the red cheek he had been pressing against my wife’s.

Maureen Miller, in one of those intervals in bed when passion had been
slaked but an awkward half-hour of usable time remained before I could in
decency sneak away, once told me that Winifred resented the fact that, in
the years when the affair between Frank and Jeanne was common knowledge, I
had never made a pass at her. Winifred, sometimes called Freddy, was an
owlish small woman, a graceful white owl, with big dark eyes and untanned
skin and an Emily Dickinson hairdo atop a plump body that tapered to small
and shapely hands and feet. If my wife held herself
like a dancer, it was her lover’s wife who in fact could dance, with a
feathery nestling and lightness of fit that had an embarrassing erotic
effect on me. Holding her in my arms, I would get an erection, and thus I
would prudently avoid dancing with her until the end of the evening, when
one or the other of us, in an attempt to persuade our spouses to tear
themselves apart, would have put on an overcoat. Otherwise, I
was not attracted to Winifred. Like the model for her hairdo, she had
literary ambitions and a dogmatic, clipped, willfully oblique style. She
seemed in her utterances faintly too firm.

“Well, I won’t say no,” she said, not altogether graciously, one night
well after midnight when Jeanne suggested that I walk Winifred home,
through a snowstorm that had developed during a dinner party of ours and
its inert, boozy aftermath. Couples or their remnants had drifted off
until just Winifred was left; she had a stern, impassive way of absorbing
a great deal of liquor and betraying its presence in
her system only by a slight lowering of her lids over her bright black
eyes, and an increase of pedantry in her fluting voice. This was before
the Greers’ divorce. Frank was absent from the party on some mysterious
excuse of a business trip. It was the first stage of their separation, I
realized later. Jeanne, knowing more than she let on, had extended herself
that night like a kid sister to the unescorted woman. She kept urging
Freddy, as the party thinned, to give us one more tale of the
creative-writing seminar she was taking, as a special student, at our
local college, Bradbury. Bradbury had formerly been a bleak little
Presbyterian seminary tucked up here, with its pillared chapel, in the
foothills of the White Mountains, but it had long loosened its
ecclesiastical ties and in the Sixties had gone coed, with riotous results.

“This one girl,” Winifred said, accepting what she swore was her last
Kahlúa and brandy, “read a story that must have been very closely based on
a painful breakup she had just gone through, and got nothing but the most
sarcastic comments from the instructor, who seems to be a real sadist, or
else it was his way of putting the make on her.” Her expression conveyed
disgust and weariness with all such trans-
actions. I supposed that she was displacing her anger at Frank onto the
instructor, a New York poet who no doubt wished he was back in Greenwich
Village, where the sexual revolution was polymorphous. He was a dreary
sour condescending fellow, in my occasional brushes with him, and
disconcertingly short as well.

These rehashed class sessions were all fascinating stuff, if you judged
from Jeanne’s animation and gleeful encouragement of the other woman to
tell more. A rule of life in Pierce Junction demanded that you be
especially nice to your lover’s spouse–by no means an insincere
observance, for the secret sharing did breed a tortuous, guilt-warmed
gratitude to the everyday keeper of such a treasure. But even Winifred
through her veils of Kahlúa began to feel uncomfortable, and stood up in
our cold room (the thermostat had retired hours ago), and put her shawl up
around her head,
as if fluffing up her feathers. She accepted with a frown Jeanne’s
insistent suggestion that I escort her home. “Of course I’m in no
condition to drive, this has been so lovely,” she said to Jeanne, with a
handshake that Jeanne turned into a fierce, pink-faced, rather frantic (I
thought) embrace of transposed affection.

Winifred’s car had been plowed fast to the curb by the passing
revolving-eyed behemoths of our town highway department, and she lived
only three blocks away, an uphill slog in four inches of fresh snow. She
did seem to need to take my arm, but we both stayed wrapped in our own
thoughts. The snow drifted down with a steady whisper of its own, and the
presence on the streets, at this profoundly nocturnal hour, of the
churning, scraping snowplows made an effect of companionship–of a wider
party beneath the low sky, which was glowing yellow with that strange,
secretive phosphorescence of a snowstorm. The houses were dark, and my
porch light grew smaller, receding down the hill. In front of her own
door, right under a streetlamp, Winifred turned to face me as if, in our
muffling clothes,
to dance; but it was only to offer up her pale, oval, rather frozen and
grieving face for me to kiss. Snowflakes were caught in the long lashes of
her closed lids and spangled the arc of parted dark hair left exposed by
her shawl. I felt the usual arousal. The house behind her held only
sleeping children. Its clapboard face, needing a coat of paint, looked
shabby, betraying the distracted marriage within.

There was, in Pierce Junction, a romance of other couples’ houses–the
merged tastes, the accumulated furniture, the framed photographs going
back to the bridal day and the premarital vacation spots. We loved being
guests and hosts both, but preferred being guests, invasive and
inquisitive and irresponsible. Did she expect me to come in? It didn’t
strike me as at all a feasible idea–at my back, down the hill, Jeanne
would be busy tidying up the party wreckage in our living room and resting
a despairing eye on the kitchen clock with its sweeping red second hand.
Tiny stars of ice clotted my own lashes as I kissed our guest good night,
square on the mouth but lightly, lightly, with liquor-glazed subtleties of
courteous regret. Of all the kisses I gave and received in Pierce
Junction, from children and adults and golden retrievers, that chaste
crystalline one has remained unmelted in my mind.

When I returned to the house, Frank, surprisingly, was sitting in the
living room, holding a beer and wearing a rumpled suit, his long face pink
as if after great exertion. Jeanne, too tired to be flustered, explained,
“Frank just got back from his trip. The plane into the Manchester airport
almost didn’t land, and when he found Freddy not at their home he thought
he’d swing down here and pick her up.”
“Up and down that hill in this blizzard?” I marvelled. I didn’t remember
any car going by.
“We have four-wheel drive,” Frank said, as if that explained everything.
John Updike

About John Updike

John Updike - Licks of Love

Photo © Martha Updike

John Updike was the author of more than sixty books, including collections of short stories, poems, and criticism. His novels have been honored with the Pulitzer Prize (twice), the National Book Award, and the Howells Medal of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Hugging the Shore, an earlier collection of essays and reviews, received the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism. He died in January 2009.


“A touching, elegiac collection of stories about infidelity, about the weight of family, about the dwindling of years . . . [Updike] works so slowly and carefully that you rarely see the emotional punches coming.”—Newsweek
“With compassion and bemused affection, [Updike] traces the many large and small ways in which Harry’s actions continue to reverberate through the lives of his widow, Janice, and their son, Nelson. . . . [‘Rabbit Remembered’] not only reconnoiters old ground but in doing so also manages to transform it into something stirring and new.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
“ ‘Rabbit Remembered’ is a thing of rich satisfaction. . . . Throughout the collection are passages of stylistic certainty and bittersweet intimacy.”—The Boston Sunday Globe

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