The Early Stories: 1953-1975 Hardcover – Deckle Edge, Oct 21 2003
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All Updike needs is the Nobel Prize to complete his list of major awards. In the very early years of his career, he seemed to spring full fledged as a short story writer, so he can hardly be said to have a body of apprentice work, to which this compilation of his early stories attests. They are mature pieces, and the collection contains several stories still considered masterpieces and which continue to appear in anthologies; these would include, of course, "A & P" and "Pigeon Feathers." What is particularly exciting to see is the publication again of his wonderful Olinger stories, particular favorites of Updike fans and, up to this point, out of print. The collection contains a grand total of 102 stories, and most were originally published in the New Yorker, Updike's basic professional residence during these years. But his New Yorker ties should not be considered a drawback to the enjoyment of his work, for his ingenuity, scope, and heart extend far beyond the island of Manhattan. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
“Classic gems . . . These stories, like Mr. Updike’s finest novels . . . preserve a time and a place through the sorcery of words.”—The New York Times
“[Updike is] akin to Coleridge and Shelley, only with an American twist. One story at a time, he [reminds] Americans that in spite of life’s largesse, things fail; one sentence at a time, he reveals that through the small details, it can be sublime.”—The Denver Post
“Updike’s artistry—normally glimpsed in sections, like a person through window slats—is wholly and deeply seen. . . . One reads through the plenitude with delight, expectation, and at all times gratitude.”—The Atlantic Monthly
Top Customer Reviews
I think that it was a mistake to collect over 100 short stories under one cover with virtually no sieving. Updike made his living from writing and, and as far as I understand, he never held a regular job after he resigned from the New Yorker at the age of 25 - so I would be the last person to blame him for having published some short stories that were not quite to his general standard. When a small collection contains a couple of such works, this is usually not a problem. The situation inevitably becomes different on a scale of 100+ samples: the gap in quality between the best 10 and the weakest 10 of them is massive, and it is impossible not to notice this. I do not think that exposing his lesser works against the background of so many great stories found in this volume has done Updike's standing any good. I own virtually all collections of short stories ever published by him, and in my opinion he emerges a better author from each of his individual early collections than from this volume that combines their content.
I did not like the fact that while putting together this book Updike decided to change a few things here and there. In particular, the last sentence of the wonderful 'Dentistry and Doubt' is way too subtle in its revised version, and I suspect that some readers may now miss the whole point of the ending: I probably would, had I not read the story the way it was originally published.
Giving the hardback a deckle edge was a bad idea.Read more ›
He always takes the difficult road. He doesn't simply have a husband cheat on his wife; instead, he has the husband worry that he will cheat on his wife, and then he considers the implications. I disagree with critics who accuse Updike of being unemotional. His stories are tangles of pure emotion.
My favorite story in the collection is "Packed Dirt, Churchgoing, A Dying Cat, A Traded Car." It's set up as a series of essays that eventually carry the reader into a story about the author's dying father. It feels like a compilation of random events until you get ot the last line, and then you realize that everything is connected, everything has a purpose. It may be the most beautiful ending I've ever read. (The second most beautiful ending is in "The Happiest I've Been.")
Updike is not for everyone. If you like simple, straightforward stories, read Tobias Wolff (he is amazing in a totally different way). But if you're interested in a world vivid with details--a world with no easy questions, let alone answers--try Updike.
One caveat: read slowly--the magic is more in the words than the paragraphs.
(1) The recurring Richard and Joan Maple stories: Updike has a gift for peaking in on a set of characters every 5 years or so without skipping a beat. This, of course, is what the Rabbit Angstrom books do in novel form. In The Early Stories, Updike does this with the Maples in short story form. In each case, he captures their dialog and sarcastic exchanges as if he is writing their stories at the same time; when in fact they are stretched over twenty years.
(2) Prescient name-dropping: In the Rabbit Angstrom books, Updike fortuitously has the auto dealership affiliated with Toyota in the 1960s, which comes to great use in the 1970s. Here in The Early Stories, there is frequent reference to names which will recur in the future in American history; most interesting, Senator Al Gore (Sr).
(3) Love triangle dynamics: To Updike, the party that loses in a married man/married woman/woman mistress triangle is the woman mistress; he plays out this theme in various scenarios. I would suggest Updike's thesis is different than the norm, but one he writes about repeatedly.
The Early Stories is a testament to and a forum examining the fiction side of Mr. Updike's talents, including every short story (every one!) he ever published up until 1975, when he was 43 years old. This book is more than 800 pages long, and so I assume that the post-1975 stories were held out both in order to make sure the book could be lifted without strain or (more likely) as the stuff for a second mammoth volume of this great writer's work.
Most of us already know at least a few of the 102 stories in this thick book (I read one, "A & P," when I was in high school, long before I became a fan of Mr. Updike's work, and I didn't even realize he had been the author of it until I saw it again here), and many of the ones we don't know will reveal themselves as gems. But also -- fortunately or unfortunately -- many of the stories here simply don't work: the plots are either dated, or the characters or their motivations are too thin.
Curiously, I am unsure about whether this is positive or negative. I dismiss the possibility that the uneven quality here is natural when examining the work of a young writer not yet fully in control of his powers. After all, Mr. Updike had already created his two most memorable characters -- Rabbit Angstrom and Henry Bech (who appears in this book) -- before most of these stories came to life.
Instead, I see this as welcome proof that Mr. Updike is human, that he doesn't produce something awe inspiring every time his pen touches paper.Read more ›
Most recent customer reviews
I only liked maybe two or three stories in this entire collection. The rest were pretty timid and uneventful, as though Updike were afraid of getting his hands dirty and immersing... Read morePublished on March 7 2004
This book is not just a collection of great stories; it is a collection of great writing. Updike can write a story and really make you feel it. Read morePublished on Feb. 19 2004
Why is there not more hoopla about this extraordinary volume? Although every story has been published before, the effect of reading them all through at once (at about a story a... Read morePublished on Nov. 29 2003 by Robert Johnson