“Snowing in Greenwich Village”
by John Updike
from the January 21, 1956 issue of The New Yorker
reprinted in the December 3, 2018 issue of The New Yorker
This week, rather than publish a new story, The New Yorker went back to their archives to give us a story by Jean Stafford, who died in 1979, and John Updike, who died in 2009. This is a rare instance, then, where I’ve read both stories and have even written about one of them. For Jean Stafford’s “Children Are Always Bored on Sunday,” click here.
Updike’s “Snowing in Greenwich Village” is Updike’s first story about the Maples. He’d write about Richard and Joan Maples eighteen times in all, tracking the ups and downs of their marriage over time (the final story is “Grandparenting”).
In “Snowing in Greenwhich Village” Joan and Richard have been married for “nearly” two years, and Richard “was still so young-looking that people did not instinctively lay upon him hostly duties.” Who are the Maples hosting? Rebecca Cune.
It’s a strange evening — the Maples’ first in their new place in Greenwich Village. Rebecca, a natural raconteur, tells stories, while Joan and Richard listen, unable to match her odd experiences. But there is a moment of connection when they look out the window and see it’s snowing. Soon Rebecca says “I think I’d best go.”
“Please don’t,” Joan said with an urgency Richard had not expected; clearly she was tired. Probably the new home, the change in the weather, the good sherry, the currents of affection between herself and her husband that her sudden hug had renewed, and Rebecca’s presence had become in her mind the inextricable elements of one enchanting moment.
For Richard, though, the moment is different. He can see Rebecca’s retelling, in which the Maples, Joan in particular, are themselves the odd ingredient. In this subtle way, Richard starts to align himself more with Rebecca than with his wife.
This is exacerbated when Joan herself demands Richard walk Rebecca home since it is snowing. When they get there, Rebecca invites him to come see her place.
Richard’s suspicion on the street that he was trespassing beyond the public gardens of courtesy turned to certain guilt.
Of course, nothing has happened, but Richard’s picking up on a lot of potential signs, like when Rebecca says, “It’s hot as hell in here,” the first time she’s sworn in front of him.
This is Updike territory, of course: infidelity, even when there is no overt act. He can write it well. But it’s never been a story I’ve particularly taken to, even less over the past decade or so when these stories of “men being men” have shown themselves to be more than problematic.
“Snowing in Greenwich Village” is a line of subtle clues Richard interprets as invitations. Are they, though? Is Rebecca making herself available to Richard right after they’ve left Joan? Perhaps. Perhaps not.
Of course, nothing happens in the end. Richard leaves. But he still feels he avoided something Rebecca was ready for. And Updike likewise suggests he sees it all as just short of inevitable: “Oh, but they were close.”
I’m very curious to hear how you all respond to Updike’s tale of avoidance. Please leave your comments below!