Licks of Love: Short Stories and a Sequel, "Rabbit Remembered"

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Overview

In this brilliant late-career collection, John Updike revisits many of the locales of his early fiction: the small-town Pennsylvania of Olinger Stories, the sandstone farmhouse of Of the Farm, the exurban New England of Couples and Marry Me, and Henry Bech’s Manhattan of artistic ambition and taunting glamour. To a dozen short stories spanning the American Century, the author has added a novella-length coda to his quartet of novels about Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom. Several strands of the Rabbit saga come together ...
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Overview

In this brilliant late-career collection, John Updike revisits many of the locales of his early fiction: the small-town Pennsylvania of Olinger Stories, the sandstone farmhouse of Of the Farm, the exurban New England of Couples and Marry Me, and Henry Bech’s Manhattan of artistic ambition and taunting glamour. To a dozen short stories spanning the American Century, the author has added a novella-length coda to his quartet of novels about Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom. Several strands of the Rabbit saga come together here as, during the fall and winter holidays of 1999, Harry’s survivors fitfully entertain his memory while pursuing their own happiness up to the edge of a new millennium. Love makes Updike’s fictional world go round—married love, filial love, feathery licks of erotic love, and love for the domestic particulars of Middle American life.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom's been dead for a decade, but John Updike is alive and well -- and writing some of his best work to date. Licks of Love is a collection of 12 stunning short stories and a novella, "Rabbit Remembered," a sequel to Updike's acclaimed Rabbit Angstrom novels. In it, readers are offered the opportunity to revisit one of their all-time favorite fictional locales: Brewer, Pennsylvania, home of Harry's widow, his longtime lover, his son, and his son's wife. In the last months of 1999 the dead man's survivors keep Harry's memory alive and attempt to secure a small happiness as the curtain rises on the second millennium.
From the Publisher
“A touching, elegiac collection of stories about infidelity, about the weight of family, about the dwindling of years . . . [Updike] works so slowly and carefully that you rarely see the emotional punches coming.”—Newsweek
 
“With compassion and bemused affection, [Updike] traces the many large and small ways in which Harry’s actions continue to reverberate through the lives of his widow, Janice, and their son, Nelson. . . . [‘Rabbit Remembered’] not only reconnoiters old ground but in doing so also manages to transform it into something stirring and new.”—Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
 
“ ‘Rabbit Remembered’ is a thing of rich satisfaction. . . . Throughout the collection are passages of stylistic certainty and bittersweet intimacy.”—The Boston Sunday Globe
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom has been dead for a decade in Rabbit Remembered, the novella that closes this latest, richly evocative Updike collection. His widow, Janice, is married to Ronnie Harrison, the widower of Thelma, with whom Harry had a long-time liaison. His son Nelson's wife, Pru, whom Harry also briefly bedded, has left Nelson, who has kicked the coke habit and still lives in the old Springer house with Janice and Ronnie. The past surfaces unexpectedly when Annabelle Byers, Harry's illegitimate daughter, makes herself known to the family. The ramifications of Harry's legacy include a strained Thanksgiving dinner that degenerates into political argument and acrimonious insults, and a mordantly funny flashback to a scene in which Harry's cremated remains were inadvertently left on a closet shelf in a Comfort Inn. While Updike explores the dark territory of bitterness, resentment and guilt, he also includes his trademark ticker-tape of current events (Hillary's candidacy, etc.), a typically muddled millennium New Year's Eve and a surprisingly upbeat denouement. For Rabbit fans, this is a must-read. In addition, the 12 short stories collected here present a kaleidoscope of Updike settings and themes. One element is common to nearly all the tales: the protagonist is a libidinous married man, ever on the lookout for adulterous adventures. In all of them, nostalgia is pierced with insight and regret. This is a treasury of Updike's craft, each story a small gem. 60,000 first printing; first serial to the New Yorker. (Nov.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
At the end of Rabbit at Rest, the dying Rabbit briefly considers telling his son about Annabelle, his illegitimate daughter, then decides against it. "Enough," he thinks. So when Annabelle turns up on Janice Angstrom's doorstep in 1999, the reader is just as surprised as Janice. But "Rabbit Remembered" is not a misguided attempt to resurrect the dead hero. Think of it instead as a novella about aging and loss, with guest appearances by the Angstrom clan. It is thematically linked to the other stories in this tightly focused collection; all are suffused with nostalgia for a lost suburban America that Updike himself helped to define. In "How Was It, Really," stressed-out yuppies unable to cope with parenthood ask their father how he managed it, back in the Fifties. The old man has no recollection, except that the key concept was "benign neglect." In the title story, a banjo player fondly recalls a tour of the Soviet Union during the Cold War, performing for a population unspoiled by television. All of the stories are written in Updike's typically luscious prose, packed with exquisite descriptions and startling perceptions. Recommended for most fiction collections.--Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law Sch. Lib., Los Angeles Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
Giles
A touching, elegiac collection of stories about infidelity, about the weight of family, about the dwindling of years, about the heart and other organs.
Newsweek
Michiko Kakutani
The centerpiece of the book — and the one compelling reason to read it — is a novella-length piece called Rabbit Remembered, a sad-funny postscript to Mr. Updike's quartet of Rabbit novels (Rabbit, Run, Rabbit Redux, Rabbit Is Rich and Rabbit at Rest), which takes up the story of Harry (Rabbit) Angstrom's family and friends as they try to come to terms with his death and chart the remainder of their own lives. As in his last Rabbit novel, Mr. Updike writes with fluent access to Harry Angstrom's world, chronicling the developments in his hero's small Pennsylvania hometown with the casual ease of a longtime intimate. With compassion and bemused affection, he traces the many large and small ways in which Harry's actions continue to reverberate through the lives of his widow, Janice, and their son, Nelson, and the equally myriad ways in which their decisions are influenced, consciously or unconsciously, by their memories of him.
New York Times
A.O. Scott
[T]he value of Licks of Love, apart from the pleasure of catching up with Rabbit's friends and relations, is the wry, measured sense of perspective it brings to Updike's earlier work.
New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
Pronounced echoes of Updike's earlier fiction dominate this mixed-bag collection of 12 short stories and a novella: jazzlike variations (or "licks") on the difficulties and consequences of trying to love others better than we love ourselves. Autumnal reverie and regret, mingled with touches of erotic fantasy are the keynotes of several stories (including "The Women Who Got Away" and "New York Girl") that evoke the milieu of suburban mate-swapping explored in Updike's once-notorious Couples. "My Father On the Verge of Disgrace" recalls the vividly conflicted filial feelings of another fine early novel, The Centaur. The autobiographical Of the Farm comes to mind as one reads "The Cats," about a middle-aged man who buries his elderly mother, but not the complex memories with which she has burdened—and blessed—him. And renegade novelist Henry Bech rears his busy head again, in a new story (the wistful "His Oeuvre"), and also—by imaginative proxy—in the amusing "Licks of Love in the Heart of the Cold War," about a quite Bech-like banjo master's tour of Cold War Soviet Union and his vulnerability to his own haphazard libido. Except for "Licks," the only piece that isn't ruminative and virtually plotless is "Metamorphosis," a perfectly realized portrayal of a cancer patient's eerie transformative obsession with the woman doctor who performs his "facial surgery." But the volume's real raison d'être is "Rabbit Remembered," in which memories of the late ex-basketball star and serial screwup Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom are dredged up when his middle-aged illegitimate daughter meets her "other" family—and Rabbit's hitherto nondescript son Nelson, himselfaging,divorced, and seeking a family he can still belong to, proves to have been all along the one who loved his infuriating father and will honor his memory. Updike has never been better than when writing about the Angstroms and their discontents, in his justly famous "quartet," and in this brilliant and deeply moving coda to it, which can stand by itself as one of his finest novels. First printing of 60,000 Wagman, Diana SPONTANEOUS LA Weekly/St. Martin's (256 pp.) Oct. 6, 2000
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780345442017
  • Publisher: Random House Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 11/27/2001
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 368
  • Sales rank: 360,077
  • Product dimensions: 5.14 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.79 (d)

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

Read an Excerpt

The Women Who Got Away

Pierce Junction was an isolated New Hampshire town somewhat dignified by the presence of a small liberal-arts college; we survived by clustering together like a ball of snakes in a desert cave. The Sixties had taught us the high moral value of copulation, and we were slow to give up on an activity so simultaneously pleasurable and healthy. Still, you couldn’t sleep with everybody: we were bourgeoisie, responsible, with jobs and children, and affairs demanded energy and extracted wear and tear. We hadn’t learned yet to take the emotion out of sex. Looking back, the numbers don’t add up to what an average college student now manages in four years. There were women you failed ever to sleep with; these, in retrospect, have a perverse vividness, perhaps because the contacts, in the slithering ball of snakes, were so few that they have stayed distinct.

“Well, Martin,” Audrey Lancaster murmured to me toward the end of a summer cruise on a boat hired out of Portsmouth in celebration of somebody or other’s fortieth birthday, “I see what they say about you, at last.” The
“at last” was a dig of sorts, and the “they” was presumably female in gender. I wondered how much conversation went on, and along lines how specific, among the wives and divorcées of our set. I had been standing there by the rail, momentarily alone, mellow on my portion of California
Chablis, watching the Piscataqua River shakily reflect the harbor lights as the boat swung to dock and the loudspeaker system piped Simon and
Garfunkel into the warm, watery night.

My wife was slow-dancing on the forward deck with her lover, Frank Greer.
Audrey had materialized beside me and my hand went around her waist as if we might dance, too. There my hand stayed, and, like the gentle buzz you get from a frayed appliance cord, the reality of her haunch burned through to my fingers and palm. She was a solid, smooth-faced woman, so nearsighted that she moved with a splay-footed pugnacity, as if something she didn’t quite see might knock her over. Her contact lenses were always getting lost, in somebody’s lawn or at the back of her eyeballs. She had married young and was a bit younger than the rest of us. You had to love
Audrey, seeing her out on the tennis court in frayed denim cut-offs, with her sturdy brown legs and big, squinty smile, taking a swing and missing the ball completely. Her waist was smooth and flexible in summer cotton,
and, yes, she was right, for the first time in all our years of acquaintance I sensed her as a potential mate, as a piece of the cosmic puzzle that might fit my piece.

But I also felt that, basically, she didn’t care for me, not enough to come walking through all of adultery’s risks and spasms of guilt, all those hoops of flame. She distrusted me, the way you distrust a competitor. We were both clowns, bucking to be elected Funniest in the
Class. Further, she was taken, doubly: not only married, to a man called
Spike, with the four children customary for our generation, but involved in a number of murky flirtations or infatuations, including one with my best friend, Rodney Miller–if a person could be said to have same-sex friends in our rather doctrinairely heterosexual enclave. She had a nice way of drawling out poisonous remarks, and said now, to me, “Shouldn’t you go tell Jeanne and Frank the boat is about to dock? They might get arrested by the Portsmouth fuzz for public indecency.”

I said, “Why me? I’m not the cruise director.”

Jeanne was my wife. Her love for Frank, in the twisted way of things back then, helped bind me to her: I felt so sorry for her, having to spend most of her hours with me and the children when her heart was elsewhere. She had been raised a French Catholic, and there was something noble for her about suffering and self-denial; her invisible hairshirt kept her torso erect as a dancer’s and added to her beauty in my eyes. I didn’t like
Audrey mocking her. Or did I? Perhaps my feelings were more primitive,
more stupidly possessive, than I knew at the time. I tightened my grip on
Audrey’s waist, approaching a painful pinch, then let go, and went forward to where Jeanne and Frank, the music stopped, looked as if they had just woken up, with bloated, startled faces. Frank Greer had been married, to a woman named Winifred, until rather recently in our little local history.
Divorce, which had been flickering at our edges for a decade while our vast pool of children slowly bubbled up through the school grades toward,
we hoped, psychological health, was still rare, and sat raw on Frank, like the red cheek he had been pressing against my wife’s.

Maureen Miller, in one of those intervals in bed when passion had been slaked but an awkward half-hour of usable time remained before I could in decency sneak away, once told me that Winifred resented the fact that, in the years when the affair between Frank and Jeanne was common knowledge, I
had never made a pass at her. Winifred, sometimes called Freddy, was an owlish small woman, a graceful white owl, with big dark eyes and untanned skin and an Emily Dickinson hairdo atop a plump body that tapered to small and shapely hands and feet. If my wife held herself like a dancer, it was her lover’s wife who in fact could dance, with a feathery nestling and lightness of fit that had an embarrassing erotic effect on me. Holding her in my arms, I would get an erection, and thus I
would prudently avoid dancing with her until the end of the evening, when one or the other of us, in an attempt to persuade our spouses to tear themselves apart, would have put on an overcoat. Otherwise, I
was not attracted to Winifred. Like the model for her hairdo, she had literary ambitions and a dogmatic, clipped, willfully oblique style. She seemed in her utterances faintly too firm.

“Well, I won’t say no,” she said, not altogether graciously, one night well after midnight when Jeanne suggested that I walk Winifred home,
through a snowstorm that had developed during a dinner party of ours and its inert, boozy aftermath. Couples or their remnants had drifted off until just Winifred was left; she had a stern, impassive way of absorbing a great deal of liquor and betraying its presence in her system only by a slight lowering of her lids over her bright black eyes, and an increase of pedantry in her fluting voice. This was before the Greers’ divorce. Frank was absent from the party on some mysterious excuse of a business trip. It was the first stage of their separation, I
realized later. Jeanne, knowing more than she let on, had extended herself that night like a kid sister to the unescorted woman. She kept urging
Freddy, as the party thinned, to give us one more tale of the creative-writing seminar she was taking, as a special student, at our local college, Bradbury. Bradbury had formerly been a bleak little
Presbyterian seminary tucked up here, with its pillared chapel, in the foothills of the White Mountains, but it had long loosened its ecclesiastical ties and in the Sixties had gone coed, with riotous results.

“This one girl,” Winifred said, accepting what she swore was her last
Kahlúa and brandy, “read a story that must have been very closely based on a painful breakup she had just gone through, and got nothing but the most sarcastic comments from the instructor, who seems to be a real sadist, or else it was his way of putting the make on her.” Her expression conveyed disgust and weariness with all such trans-
actions. I supposed that she was displacing her anger at Frank onto the instructor, a New York poet who no doubt wished he was back in Greenwich
Village, where the sexual revolution was polymorphous. He was a dreary sour condescending fellow, in my occasional brushes with him, and disconcertingly short as well.

These rehashed class sessions were all fascinating stuff, if you judged from Jeanne’s animation and gleeful encouragement of the other woman to tell more. A rule of life in Pierce Junction demanded that you be especially nice to your lover’s spouse–by no means an insincere observance, for the secret sharing did breed a tortuous, guilt-warmed gratitude to the everyday keeper of such a treasure. But even Winifred through her veils of Kahlúa began to feel uncomfortable, and stood up in our cold room (the thermostat had retired hours ago), and put her shawl up around her head,
as if fluffing up her feathers. She accepted with a frown Jeanne’s insistent suggestion that I escort her home. “Of course I’m in no condition to drive, this has been so lovely,” she said to Jeanne, with a handshake that Jeanne turned into a fierce, pink-faced, rather frantic (I
thought) embrace of transposed affection.

Winifred’s car had been plowed fast to the curb by the passing revolving-eyed behemoths of our town highway department, and she lived only three blocks away, an uphill slog in four inches of fresh snow. She did seem to need to take my arm, but we both stayed wrapped in our own thoughts. The snow drifted down with a steady whisper of its own, and the presence on the streets, at this profoundly nocturnal hour, of the churning, scraping snowplows made an effect of companionship–of a wider party beneath the low sky, which was glowing yellow with that strange,
secretive phosphorescence of a snowstorm. The houses were dark, and my porch light grew smaller, receding down the hill. In front of her own door, right under a streetlamp, Winifred turned to face me as if, in our muffling clothes,
to dance; but it was only to offer up her pale, oval, rather frozen and grieving face for me to kiss. Snowflakes were caught in the long lashes of her closed lids and spangled the arc of parted dark hair left exposed by her shawl. I felt the usual arousal. The house behind her held only sleeping children. Its clapboard face, needing a coat of paint, looked shabby, betraying the distracted marriage within.

There was, in Pierce Junction, a romance of other couples’ houses–the merged tastes, the accumulated furniture, the framed photographs going back to the bridal day and the premarital vacation spots. We loved being guests and hosts both, but preferred being guests, invasive and inquisitive and irresponsible. Did she expect me to come in? It didn’t strike me as at all a feasible idea–at my back, down the hill, Jeanne would be busy tidying up the party wreckage in our living room and resting a despairing eye on the kitchen clock with its sweeping red second hand.
Tiny stars of ice clotted my own lashes as I kissed our guest good night,
square on the mouth but lightly, lightly, with liquor-glazed subtleties of courteous regret. Of all the kisses I gave and received in Pierce
Junction, from children and adults and golden retrievers, that chaste crystalline one has remained unmelted in my mind.

When I returned to the house, Frank, surprisingly, was sitting in the living room, holding a beer and wearing a rumpled suit, his long face pink as if after great exertion. Jeanne, too tired to be flustered, explained,
“Frank just got back from his trip. The plane into the Manchester airport almost didn’t land, and when he found Freddy not at their home he thought he’d swing down here and pick her up.”
“Up and down that hill in this blizzard?” I marvelled. I didn’t remember any car going by.
“We have four-wheel drive,” Frank said, as if that explained everything.

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 11 of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 26, 2014

    Lucy

    Gtgtb

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 25, 2014

    Madi

    Crap. Igtgtb.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 26, 2014

    Zoe

    Do you want to continue( plz post faster

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2001

    So Glad to Revisit Brewer

    I am not much for short stories, but what a great thrill to go back and mingle with the Angstroms, Harrisons, et.al. I read all 4 Rabbit novels in the last couple of years and the novella Rabbitt Remembered was the perfect ending to the saga. Actually, it would be great if another novel came out and we continued on with Nelson, Pru, Janice, all of them. Anyone who has not read all the Rabbitt novels is sorely missing great literature that defined the times, and continues to with this new novella. John Updike is probably the greatest American novelist alive.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    Excellent Rabbit entry

    This collection is a well-written short story anthology centering on the foibles of loving someone more than one love oneself. In addition to the dozen tales, the legendary John Updike includes a novella about the Rabbit family. That tale, ¿Rabbit Remembered¿ is worth the ¿steep¿ price of admission by itself. <P> The short stories are enjoyable, but Mr. Updike has plowed no new ground. Perhaps it is this reviewer at fault as a rabid Rabbit fan, but the fantastic novella clearly owns the book. Fans of the previous four books will want to read this posthumous story while new readers will scramble for the four novels that have made Mr. Updike a well deserved award winning author. Without giving away the plot, the deceased Rabbit¿s illegitimate daughter meets the rest of the family in a humorous but, often melancholy way. This clearly enables the tying up of the previous stories into a fabulous complete package worth reading. <P>Harriet Klausner

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    Posted November 13, 2011

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