I’ve never been a big fan of Updike’s novels. I’m not sure why that is. It’s possible I just haven’t read them at the right time. Consequently, I gave up on them some years ago and have actually never read any of the Rabbit Angstrom books (though I did try Rabbit, Run). However, I have been a fan of Updike’s short fiction since well before I tried one of his novels. I was thrilled when The Library of America announced they were bringing Updike into their collection, especially since it is a double volume of his collected stories.
Though I have read many of the stories collected here, I simply haven’t read enough to write a proper “review.” These two volumes collect 186 stories, with the first volume containing 102 stories from 1953 to 1975, and the second 84 stories from 1976 to 2008. It’s a treasure trove, and I heartily recommend this collection to readers familiar or unfamiliar with Updike’s short fiction.
Besides the stories covering one of the most impressive careers in memory, this set is filled with notes and other supplemental material to really dive deeply into Updike’s extensive work across more than half a century. These notes are invaluable: besides telling when each piece was first published (usually in The New Yorker, which had the exclusive right of first refusal from the time Updike was just beginning), they tell us when and where Updike composed them, when he submitted them, who edited them, what was going on in Updike’s life, etc.
But what about the short fiction itself? For my money, along with criticism, short fiction is where Updike excelled, despite the fact most people know him for his novels. His short fiction is typically about those small moments that, for most of us, mean little if they have any meaning at all. And yet, of course, we spend our lives in the quotidian and build who we are out of such unimportant moments. These stories dramatize the everyday, developing the very private lives that often baffle those living them.
These two volumes exclude some of Updike’s most famous short work, most of those stories about Richard and Joan Maple (eighteen, from my count) and most of those about Henry Bech (approximately twenty). It’s my understanding that The Library of America is planning a separate volume for these.
While I have no plans to post about Updike’s short work story by story, I am working my way through the volumes and will be posting my thoughts on some of my favorites here and there. Please let me know which are your favorites, and let’s read them together.