My Father’s Tears & Other Stories by John Updike - review by Ophelia Field

Ophelia Field

The Last Laugh

My Father’s Tears & Other Stories


Hamish Hamilton 292pp £18.99 order from our bookshop

This collection of Updike’s final stories is the first published since the mammoth The Early Stories in 2003, and contains several that can stand proudly beside his best. Predominantly about the workings of memory and the growing isolation of their aging protagonists (nearly all, as ever, variations on Updike himself), these are stories in which there is comparatively little sex, and certainly none of the ‘bad sex’ scenes for which this publication recently honoured the late great American writer. Marital infidelity still features prominently, but is portrayed as leaving fewer fond memories than regrets, and, in ‘Personal Archaeology’, as being forgiven only by those who, like the hero’s mother, adopt a reflexively liberal ‘talk-show tolerance’ of such scandals. In ‘Free’, a widower tracks down a long-cherished ex-lover, now living amid Floridian vulgarity, and sadly wonders: ‘Had she become one of those spoiled, much-married women who say whatever rude sharp thing comes to them, take it or leave it, as if sassy were cute?’

The collection’s morbidity can be forgiven as being a lifelong preoccupation of the author, not merely a symptom of his own old age. In ‘The Walk with Elizanne’, Updike brilliantly describes exactly how devoid of philosophical response we have become: ‘Where he lived now, an unresisted atheism left

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