Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Short Story Wednesday: "Killing: John Updike

This is a bleak story about both the death of a father and the death of a marriage. A woman (Lynne) is forced to decide if her father's life will be continued through extensive life support or not. Having been in this situation myself--three times now--it probably spoke more to me than it would to many. 

Updike spares the reader little as he describes the dying man's last days. And the dying marriage gets the same treatment. It is made all the more poignant when you realize it is Updike's own marriage he is probably describing. He is both hard on himself (Martin, in the story) and forgiving of himself. Pretty nifty to pull off. He wants his former wife to accept his mistress into the family fold but chooses a strange time to attempt this. 

Although the writing is sure-handed, this is a hard story to like too much. I think that is due to Updike wanting Martin (himself) to be forgiven. And he also is ambivalent toward the woman by having her unable to stay by her father's side as he dies. Interesting in many ways but not totally successful, I think. 

When I was at Breadloaf, Updike was roundly criticized for many things: his upperclass characters, his ornate writing for two, his repetition of themes, but I never minded this. I wonder if he is thought better of today. I bet he doesn't turn up on many syllabuses. \

Jerry House

Matt Paust

George Kelley 

Kevin Tipple 

Todd Mason

16 comments:

Todd Mason said...

Well...if ever a writer seemed comfortably entitled...as opposed to Norman Mailer, always sweatily demanding entitlement...John Cheever seemed to have a more acute sense of what was wrong about all that. Among others, but among the NEW YORKER crowd perhaps the most obviously. Salinger seemed (and demonstrated to some degree) that he didn't think the critique should be extended to himself. Kind of like Woody Allen.

Margot Kinberg said...

I have not read Updike in years, Patti. I need to take a look at his work again.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Yes, always compared to Cheever. The years have not been kind having read several more. There is an elitism to the writing.

Jeff Meyerson said...

I just don't think Updike is read nearly as much now as he was when he was alive. I certainly haven't read him in the last decade, and I used to read a lot of his books. I liked the Rabbit series a lot at the time, and I've read a lot of his short stories.

Besides the two big Mike Ashley anthologies I am reading (one impossible crimes, the other "occult detectives"), I am reading an Alice Munro collection someone left in the basement laundry room: Hateship, Friendship, Courtship. Loveship, Marriage. Apparently, the title story/novella is one of her most reprinted, and was even made into a movie (Hateship, Loveship) in 2013, with Kristen Wiig as her heroine, and Guy Pearce and Hailee Steinfeld. 2013 was the year Munro won the Nobel Prize. The book was published in 2001.

George said...

I would pick Cheever over Updike in the fiction department. However, Updike was a gifted reviewer.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Updike was the better novelist, I think, but Cheever the more interesting story writer. I think I have every Munro wrote. She wrote longer over the years.

Todd Mason said...

I need to read Cheever's novels beyond BULLET PARK, Updike's beyond RABBIT, RUN and THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK. With those examples, Cheever still seems more self-aware (I'm always prone to go for the shorter fiction first--Updike does enjoy getting cute in short stories).

The whitest guys (save perhaps E. B. White, whose most notable novels are children's classics) to come out of THE NEW YORKER nexus at mid-century and to gain the greatest literary acclaim, along with Salinger, who hid and quit and shacked up with Maynard while apparently hating himself for doing so...the comparisons are almost as inevitable as they are common...

I'm writing my entry now...

Mathew Paust said...

Both Updike and Cheever were de rigueur in my freshman English classes at U. of Wis. back in the day. I haven't read either of them in decades so I can't comment on Todd's impressions, which would have been over my head then anyway. Despite Mailer's ego juvenilia (or maybe because it beckoned to mine) writing--craftsmanship, daring--never failed to astonish. I remember his panning cruelly Rabbit Run,which tainted Updike for me forevermore. A friend gave me a Cheever collection, which I still have,. altho haven't read in ages. As my fantasy mentor Mailer hadn't trashed Cheever, as I recall, I read his stories without the bias attendant with Updike. Bellow, another contemporary and darling of freshman English classes, saved his reputation for me with his praise for Henderson the Rain King,. Yes, I was an excitable, impressionable yout' back then fairly devoid of critical inclinations, but by God we walked to school up hill in snow drifts over our heads in those days, climbed over barbed wire fences that tore our britches and stabbed our hands...and we LIKED it!

Mathew Paust said...

'twas Mailer who saved Bellow's reputation for me, as I failed to clarify above (I need stronger glasses.)

Rick Robinson said...

Sorry I don't have one again this week, I just can't seem to get a post together (I blame Wordpress), though I am reading some.

pattinase (abbott) said...

One day before my Dad died we measures his trek to school against my husbands and his won out. Why is it men take such pride in lengths.

Kevin R. Tipple said...

I remember reading Updike and Cheever for lit courses back in the 80s and 80s, but nothing at all specific.

My effort today https://kevintipplescorner.blogspot.com/2020/12/short-story-wednesday-review-amos-hangs.html

Todd Mason said...

Patti--one way to keep score...whether in citing machismic childhood walks that can be used to shame the kids, or in something else we have little if any control over, in hopes that might make us more attractive. By gum, I had to ride a bus filled with hostile and malignly indifferent kids to school in 7th-9th grade in New Hampshire, and an hour on the city/county/island bus line in Hawaii to get to my private school, and, by gum, I didn't like it much! Doesn't quite have the same ring as trudging through 28 feet of snow during the Ice Age to get to the unheated clapboard shack and fending off, say, Brooklyn grizzly bears so that we could say the flag pledge and learn Old Math together.

Todd Mason said...

Come to think of it, I had to deal with or avoid a fair amount of bullies in my Massachusetts and Connecticut walks to school and more so from school in 1st-6th grades...far more annoying than snowdrifts. Lived about an 8th-quarter mile from both those elementary schools.

Mathew Paust said...

Todd's nailed it. I was going to say to impress you gals, but that would have been too crude. I was trying to riff off Billy Crystal's Grumpy Old Man skit on SNL. No matter how arduous the ordeal, the punch line was always "and we LIKED it!!"

Todd Mason said...

Matt--Crystal had a similar character, but you're thinking of Dana Carvey's recurring commentator on then-current events...and he rang all the changes he could, and managed to not let it get tired (unlike WAY too much of SNL over the decades).

Patti--Mine's finally up. Quite the mouse for all the mountain agitation, but still...up...thanks!