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The Afterlife and Other Stories

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To Carter Billings, the hero of John Updike's title story, all of England has the glow of an afterlife: "A miraculous lacquer lay upon everything, beading each roadside twig, each reed of thatch in the cottage roofs, each tiny daisy trembling in the grass." All twenty-two of the stories in this collection - John Updike's eleventh, and his first in seven years - in various ways partake of this glow, as life beyond middle age is explored and found to have its own particular wonders, from omniscient golf caddies to ...
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The Afterlife: And Other Stories

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Overview

To Carter Billings, the hero of John Updike's title story, all of England has the glow of an afterlife: "A miraculous lacquer lay upon everything, beading each roadside twig, each reed of thatch in the cottage roofs, each tiny daisy trembling in the grass." All twenty-two of the stories in this collection - John Updike's eleventh, and his first in seven years - in various ways partake of this glow, as life beyond middle age is explored and found to have its own particular wonders, from omniscient golf caddies to prescient sexual rumors, from the deaths of mothers and brothers-in-law to the births of grandchildren. As death approaches, life takes on, for some of these aging heroes, a translucence, a magical fragility; vivid memory and casual misperception lend the mundane an antic texture, and the backward view, lengthening, acquires a certain grandeur. Travel, whether to England or Ireland, Italy or the isles of Greece, heightens perceptions and tensions. As is usual in Mr. Updike's fiction, spouses quarrel, lovers part, children are brave, and houses with their decor have the presence of personalities. His is a world where innocence stubbornly persists, and fresh beginnings almost outnumber losses.

Updike's collection features stories that partake of a glow--as life beyond middle age is explored and found to have its own particular amazements.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
As Updike himself edges into his 60s, so do the narrators and protagonists of most of these 22 beautifully crafted stories, all of them meticulously honest and gracefully ironic. ``In the winter of their lives,'' most of these aging men have been married more than once-adultery is endemic in their social sphere sophisticated communities up and down the Eastern seaboard. They have not achieved the happiness they expected, however, and they have reason to think back wistfully to the women they first married, when life seemed full of promise-especially since their second and third wives carry a ``weight of anger'' and resentment, augmented by feminism. These men are chillingly aware that even intimate connections prove superficial; the protagonist of ``Grandparenting'' perceives that ``nobody belongs to us, except in memory.'' Sometimes insight is healing: in two stories concerning George, a beset older man married to Vivian, a contentious woman 20 years his junior, George achieves the serenity of acceptance: ``his used old heart cracked open and peace entered.'' And in two of the most powerful tales, the title story and ``Baby's First Steps,'' a minor accident gives a man a glimpse of his mortality, yet existence is henceforth tinged with sudden magic. The relationships between sons and mothers-elderly, dying, dead-fuel many of these tales, which are rendered with a brave candor. Inspired whimsy and a touch of the supernatural invest a standout story, ``Farrell's Caddie,'' and ``Cruise'' is a modern-day Greek myth cloaked with wit. This volume marks the 42nd of Updike's books to be published by Knopf; one looks forward to the changing perspective though not changing themes that each decade brings to this masterful writer's work. BOMC and QPB club alternates. Nov.
Library Journal
In Olinger Stories 1964, Updike wrote knowingly about the pangs of adolescence. In Too Far To Go 1979, he focused with equal insight on the family and material crises typical of middle age. Now, after publishing more than 40 volumes of fiction, poetry, and essays, he concentrates on aging protagonists and the abundant evidence of mortality that surrounds them. In these mellow, reflective stories, where parents die and grandchildren are born, Updike's heroes are acutely aware of lost glory yet discover the strength to persevere. In "Short Easter," for example, the start of daylight-saving time cuts an hour off the holiday, and this odd truncation evokes for the central character larger personal losses. As usual, Updike's narration is masterful, but a few stories seem to be reworkings of the same basic plot. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 7/94.]-Albert E. Wilhelm, Tennessee Technological Univ., Cookeville
Brad Hooper
As Updike ages, so his characters age. That's not to say, though, that he's over the hill; if anything, he's king of it. He's never been keener in observing our motivations, particularly how we love and lust. His style is more sharp-edged while not losing any of its famed sensuousness. This latest collection contains 22 stories, most of them previously published in the "New Yorker". The title story introduces the general theme and tone of the collection with its first line: "The Billingses, so settled in their ways, found in their fifties that their friends were doing sudden, surprising things." One of the couples they know move to England, and three years later, the Billingses visit them. The trip bears witness to Carter Billings that life in its second half has a different tenor. This same theme is also expressed in the two-part "George and Vivian." In part one, "Aperto, Chiuso," we meet George, nearly 60, and his third wife, Vivian, nearly 40, during a trip to Italy. The difference in their ages and the consequent difference in their reactions to their Italian experiences tax the marriage and George's understanding of it. In the second part, "Bluebeard in Ireland," they're on vacation again two years later, now on the Emerald Isle, and their marital strain compels George to ponder taking a fourth wife. No one can write descriptive passages as beautifully as Updike, and no one senses the pressure points in relationships as surely and sensitively as he.
From the Publisher
“Marvelously moving . . . These tales evoke a certain peace and a definite wonder at what an astonishingly graceful writer Updike is.”—USA Today
 
“Quintessential Updike . . . These tales are elegies for lost youth and receding passions.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
 
“If one trait can account for John Updike’s staying power, it is the man’s exquisite grasp of ordinary miracles. . . . With his small mirages, his puddles left by both the heroic and the damned, Updike can turn the simple, misguided efforts of a man into a signature of song.”—The Boston Globe
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780449224168
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 4/11/1995
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback

Meet the Author

John Updike was born in Shillington, Pennsylvania, in 1932. 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. His novels have won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Rosenthal Foundation Award, and the William Dean Howells Medal. In 2007 he received the Gold Medal for Fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. John Updike died in January 2009.

Biography

With an uncommonly varied oeuvre that includes poetry, criticism, essays, short stories, and novels, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner John Updike helped to change the face of late-20th-century American literature.

Born in Reading, Pennsylvania, Updike graduated summa cum laude from Harvard in 1954. Following a year of study in England, he joined the staff of The New Yorker, establishing a relationship with the magazine that continued until his death in January, 2009. For more than 50 years, he lived in two small towns in Massachusetts that inspired the settings for several of his stories.

In 1958, Updike's first collection of poetry was published. A year later, he made his fiction debut with The Poorhouse Fair. But it was his second novel, 1960's Rabbit, Run, that forged his reputation and introduced one of the most memorable characters in American fiction. Former small-town basketball star Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom struck a responsive chord with readers and critics alike and catapulted Updike into the literary stratosphere.

Updike would revisit Angstrom in 1971, 1981, and 1990, chronicling his hapless protagonist's jittery journey into undistinguished middle age in three melancholy bestsellers: Rabbit Redux, Rabbit Is Rich, and Rabbit at Rest. A concluding novella, "Rabbit Remembered," appeared in the 2001 story collection Licks of Love.

Although autobiographical elements appear in the Rabbit books, Updike's true literary alter ego was not Harry Angstrom but Harry Bech, a famously unproductive Jewish-American writer who starred in his own story cycle. In between -- indeed, far beyond -- his successful series, Updike went on to produce an astonishingly diverse string of novels. In addition, his criticism and short fiction became popular staples of distinguished literary publications.

Good To Know

Updike first became entranced by reading when he was a young boy growing up on an isolated farm in Pennsylvania. Afflicted with psoriasis and a stammer, he escaped his self-consciousness by immersing himself in drawing, writing, and reading.

An accomplished artist, Updike accepted a one-year fellowship to study painting at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Arts at Oxford University. He decided to attend Harvard University because he was a big fan of the school's humor magazine, The Harvard Lampoon.

One of the most respected authors of the 20th century, Updike won every major literary prize in America, including the Guggenheim Fellow, the Rosenthal Award, the National Book Award in Fiction, the O. Henry Prize, the American Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Union League Club Abraham Lincoln Award, the National Arts Club Medal of Honor, and the National Medal of the Arts.

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    1. Also Known As:
      John Hoyer Updike (full name)
    1. Date of Birth:
      March 18, 1932
    2. Place of Birth:
      Shillington, Pennsylvania
    1. Date of Death:
      January 27, 2009
    2. Place of Death:
      Beverly Farms, MA

Table of Contents

The Afterlife 3
Wildlife 20
Brother Grasshopper 29
Conjunction 46
The Journey to the Dead 54
The Man Who Became a Soprano 74
Short Easter 92
A Sandstone Farmhouse 103
The Other Side of the Street 136
Tristan and Iseult 148
George and Vivian: I. Aperto, Chiuso 154
George and Vivian: II. Bluebeard in Ireland 172
Farrell's Caddie 190
The Rumor 200
Falling Asleep Up North 215
The Brown Chest 225
His Mother Inside Him 234
Baby's First Step 242
Playing With Dynamite 252
The Black Room 263
Cruise 283
Grandparenting 298
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