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The Early Stories: 1953-1975by John Updike
Winner of the 2004 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction
Synopses & Reviews
"He is a religious writer; he is a comic realist; he knows what everything feels like, how everything works. He is putting together a body of work which in substantial intelligent creation will eventually be seen as second to none in our time." — William H. Pritchard, The Hudson Review, reviewing Museums and Women (1972)
A harvest and not a winnowing, The Early Stories preserves almost all of the short fiction John Updike published between 1954 and 1975.
The stories are arranged in eight sections, of which the first, "Olinger Stories," already appeared as a paperback in 1964; in its introduction, Updike described Olinger, Pennsylvania, as "a square mile of middle-class homes physically distinguished by a bend in the central avenue that compels some side streets to deviate from the grid pattern." These eleven tales, whose heroes age from ten to over thirty but remain at heart Olinger boys, are followed by groupings titled "Out in the World," "Married Life," and "Family Life," tracing a common American trajectory. Family life is disrupted by the advent of "The Two Iseults," a bifurcation originating in another small town, Tarbox, Massachusetts, where the Puritan heritage co-exists with post-Christian morals. "Tarbox Tales" are followed by "Far Out," a group of more or less experimental fictions on the edge of domestic space, and "The Single Life," whose protagonists are unmarried and unmoored.
Of these one hundred three stories, eighty first appeared in The New Yorker, and the other twenty-three in journals from the enduring Atlantic Monthly and Harper's to the defunct Big Table and Transatlantic Review. All show Mr. Updike's wit and verbal felicity, his reverence for ordinary life, and his love of the transient world.
"They are mature pieces, and the collection contains several stories still considered masterpieces....
"Reading the stories straight through reveals a striking thing, which is that you can read the stories straight through....Updike is a virtuoso, and The Early Stories is...an enormous showroom of Updike sentences, with their lovely curves and shiny details." Louis Menand, The New Yorker
"[C]ompendious and highly uneven....[A] decidedly spotty production, filled indiscriminately with classic gems...clumsy apprentice works with creaky, contrived endings; and later ham-handed experimental efforts..." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"Updike's famously elegant and evocative prose style apparently emerged full blown....This wonderful collection is arguably the best single-volume introduction to Updike's work available. Highly recommended." Library Journal
"[L]anguage in all its fecundity is Updike's native country, and he is its patriot." Cynthia Ozick, The New York Times Book Review
"Updike unpeels the innocence from his generation one sentence at a time....Even when these literary shadows tint the prose, the territory is unquestionably Updike's..." John Freeman, The Denver Post
"[Updike] stakes his first retrospective claim at greatness with [this] brick of a book....Aside from affirming Updike's skill and achievements, this collection illuminates several intriguing aspects of his writing." Chauncey Mabe, The Sun-Sentinel
"[T]hick and hefty and remarkable....At least two [stories] are perfect. At least a dozen more are outstanding. Another dozen are clinkers. All the rest are simply...brilliant, thought-demanding, deliciously worded." San Jose Mercury News
"[S]umptuous....Updike is so prolific a writer that even his devoted fans may have missed a few, and even the briefest of them can be gems..." St. Petersburg Times
"In every story Updike captures the delicately pervasive feel of the time and place, as if to show us that the least nuance of life is worth preserving and honoring....The stories are rich with Updike's recurring religious themes." Seattle Times
"[I]mpressive....Early Stories is a great treat, a feast of language by a modern master. They remind us why we turn to short stories for nourishment and why Updike's language still thrills and delights." San Antonio Express-News
"With gentle but relentless artistry, The Early Stories enters a time, place and mood only to find its fissures....
A harvest and not a winnowing, The Early Stories preserves almost all of the short fiction John Updike published between 1954 and 1975. Of these 103 stories, 80 first appeared in The New Yorker, and the remaining 23 in other journals.
Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction
A harvest and not a winnowing, this volume collects 103 stories, almost all of the short fiction that John Updike wrote between 1953 and 1975. “How rarely it can be said of any of our great American writers that they have been equally gifted in both long and short forms,” reads the citation composed for John Updike upon his winning the 2006 Rea Award for the Short Story. “Contemplating John Updike’s monumental achievement in the short story, one is moved to think of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry James, Ernest Hemingway, and perhaps William Faulkner—writers whose reputations would be as considerable, or nearly, if short stories had been all that they had written. From [his] remarkable early short story collections . . . through his beautifully nuanced stories of family life [and] the bittersweet humors of middle age and beyond . . . John Updike has created a body of work in the notoriously difficult form of the short story to set beside those of these distinguished American predecessors. Congratulations and heartfelt thanks are due to John Updike for having brought such pleasure and such illumination to so many readers for so many years.”
About the Author
John Updike was born in 1932, in Shillington, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Harvard College in 1954, and spent a year in Oxford, England, at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art. From 1955 to 1957 he was a member of the staff of The New Yorker, and since 1957 has lived in Massachusetts. He is the author of fifty-odd previous books, including twenty novels and numerous collections of short stories, poems, and criticism. His fiction has won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the American Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Rosenthal Award, and the Howells Medal.
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