The Two Updikes

I have been an Updike reader since high school when I started reading John Updike's short stories. I bought all the available collections in used bookstores.

I reread the collected The Maples Stories years later. It has 18 stories from across about 40 years of his career that together make a kind of complete story of one marriage and the American times it spanned. They were released in a paperback version (Too Far to Go) when a television adaptation was done.

It started back in 1956 when John Updike published the story, “Snowing in Greenwich Village,” about a young couple, Joan and Richard Maple, at the beginning of their marriage. For the next couple of decades, he occasionally returned to those characters. Raising children, some happiness, some unhappiness, finally infidelity and estrangement.

I read many of these stories in The New Yorker. I would check the index of new issues at the library to see if he had a new story. I also looked at what poems were in the issue - sometimes he published poems too.

The collection added a later story, “Grandparenting,” that I had never read which takes place long after their divorce.

I started reading his son, David Updike, when his book of stories, Out on the Marsh, came out (1989). It's a good collection that seems to be out of print.

It has to be a tough job being a writer when your father is already about as big as they get in the writing world. David is about my age and did some teaching, so I felt some affinity for him. I liked what I read of a eulogy that he delivered for his father at the New York Public Library’s tribute back in March.

He published several young adult and children's books that I was able to find at bookstores over the years. A Winter Journey, An Autumn Tale, A Spring Story, and The Sounds of Summer make a great seasonal suite for young readers. They follow a boy named Homer and his dog Sophocles through the seasons. Unfortunately, they seem to be seem to be out of print.

His second collection of stories is Old Girlfriends.

"Love Songs from America" might be a somewhat autobiographical tale of an American father bringing his biracial son, Harold, to his wife's Kenyan homeland.

I liked "Adjunct" right from the title since I have been an adjunct instructor. David has taught English and Creative Writing at MIT and Roxbury Community College in Boston.

Old Girlfriends shouldn't be read to be compared with his father's stories, though I imagine most reviewers will point out similarities like the New England settings and themes of marriage, relationships, affairs and such. David's stories seem simple and more about everyday life, but they do deal with family and love and race that his father also explored.

I like that he seems to like his characters, even the ones that he and we probably shouldn't like as much. If writers don't like the characters, readers never will like them.

I know of one book that the two collaborated on - A Helpful Alphabet of Friendly Objects - a picture book for children consisting of 26 short poems on the letters of the alphabet by John Updike with photographs by David Updike.