Old Girlfriends

Old Girlfriends

4.0 2
by David Updike

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In this brilliantly told short story collection, critically acclaimed author David Updike skillfully portrays the multi-faceted nature of love and of the heart. From a father’s painful realization his son has discovered the dark heart of racism still beats, to a quiet love affair that needs an audience to bloom; from the bumbling of a professor who


In this brilliantly told short story collection, critically acclaimed author David Updike skillfully portrays the multi-faceted nature of love and of the heart. From a father’s painful realization his son has discovered the dark heart of racism still beats, to a quiet love affair that needs an audience to bloom; from the bumbling of a professor who unwittingly falls for one of his students to the wistful memories of a bittersweet affair tinged in regret, Updike portrays the intricacies of loving someone with candor. Full of sparkling wonder and poignant melancholy alike, Old Girlfriends is a clear-eyed vision of the world we live in. Drifting from the unrequited to the secretive, the familial to the first poetic moments, this soulful collection leaves no avenue of expression untouched.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“David Updike does himself—and his late father, John—proud with his second collection, Old Girlfriends… these 10 ruminative stories set in New England sport a winning sense of whimsy, quiet surprise, and fresh, frank sensuality.”—Elle Magazine

"Old Girlfriends is full of such soft yet charged moments, as the author weaves everyday observances into larger truths. Updike [is] a craftsman with a style his own."—Boston Globe

"Poetic and elegant...David Updike has the ability to craft a subtle and poignant story."—St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"Old Girlfriends...gives readers something his father never did—story after story we can crawl into and live within. Several of these stories have masterful endings—and all of them are gentle, nuanced, worthwhile."—The Buffalo News

"Thoughtful work from a writer clearly unintimidated by the family name."—Kirkus Reviews

“David Updike's stories are wonderful — small enough that you are startled by the compressed, strong emotion, expansive in what they suggest about taking a stand, taking a chance, living a meaningful life. Trees are often mentioned here, and I'd say they embody a spiritual presence that presides over the stories, anchored in Earth but reaching for something higher.”—Ann Beattie

“David Updike's Old Girlfriends is deceptively simple. In these stories about family and lovers and race, Updike skillfully depicts longing and bafflement as the stuff of our daily lives. Told in measured, that is, skilled prose, these stories soon reveal something more: all is not as it seems, safety is elusive and warmth vanishes as suddenly and surprisingly as it has miraculously appeared. Quiet complexities emerge like ink in magic paper. The wonderment can be seen if one is watchful and David Updike is watching very carefully. Adept in language and beautiful in observation, his report back to us is clear and endearing and then suddenly when you least expect it, startling.”—Susan Minot

“David Updike is clearly filled with a special kind of compassion for his characters, the flawed ones, the broken-hearted ones, the ones who break hearts themselves. Old Girlfriends is a deftly written collection, gentle, contemplative, and warming.”—Jami Attenberg

Publishers Weekly

Author of the collection Out on the Marsh and several YA titles, a son of John returns with another collection that examines the many sides of romantic and familial love. In the title story, Trevor and his Holocaust-survivor psychotherapist, Sonya, are working together to help him get over his former girlfriend and to remain single for an extended period so that he can learn about his feelings toward women. "Love Songs from America" has an American father bringing his biracial son, Harold, to his wife's Kenyan homeland, underscoring the randomness of comfort and tragedy. "Adjunct" tells of an aimless instructor, Robert, who's looking for "that illicit spark of attraction that lent to the class a certain romantic undertone and, if nothing else, made the term go faster." Though carefully observed, most of these stories suffer from a narrative passivity or abstract musing-"It was a relief to be outside again, and not have to look at her eyes, or keep up with the bantering, dangerous pace of her conversation"-that simply doesn't match the pacing and tone of the tales themselves. (July)

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Library Journal

Updike's latest collection explores thematic territory mapped out in previous work (e.g., Out on the Marsh). As the title suggests, the pieces here examine lost love, nostalgia, and heartbreak, ultimately affirming the potential joys of risking love again. In the title story, for example, a young academic in therapy after a breakup falls in love with a fellow graduate student and is grateful that his former romances have failed. Likewise, in what is arguably this collection's strongest contribution, "In the Age of Convertibles," an exemplary adolescent reaches the limits of his own excellence by fumbling a budding romance. VERDICT Updike's protagonists tend to be variations on a certain middle-class archetype: well educated, emotionally vulnerable, and romantically unfulfilled. They're also tolerant of or at least curious about people from different cultures, and many of the couples are biracial, inviting compelling consideration of identity issues and difference. This work encourages comparison with that of Updike's influential father, John Updike, and of John Irving and will appeal to readers of their works.—J. Greg Matthews, Washington State Univ. Libs., Pullman

—J. Greg Matthews
Kirkus Reviews
Family, infidelity and faith anchor the carefully constructed stories in a collection by John Updike's son. Updike (stories: Out on the Marsh, 1988, etc.) seems uninterested in distancing himself from some of the favorite themes of his late father. Indeed, an occasional story evokes the romantic machinations of novels like Couples. In "Geranium," a young man becomes increasingly obsessed with the relationship between a fellow boarder and their married landlady. "Kinds of Love" follows one man's complicated efforts to escape his family on a Sunday to attend church with his mistress, wrestling with all the guilt and compulsion that such an effort entails. In "Adjunct," a glum, self-loathing English 101 teacher pursues a relationship with one of his students, even while he's aware of the pursuit's utter futility. Though David can't claim John's graceful style and psychological depth, his prose is pleasantly unfussy and direct. "In the Age of Convertibles" is a knowing portrait of a teenager's growing wisdom about girls, and about how he can shift his place in the family's pecking order. Updike is clearly in his comfort zone when he's writing about lovelorn men, and his command gets wobblier when he takes different tacks. "A Word with the Boy" turns on an incident in which London police briefly separate the narrator from his darker-skinned son; it's a thin premise, and the story stumbles to a moralizing close. That simplistic shape is echoed in "Love Songs From America," whose narrator visits his wife's home in an unnamed African country with their son; though Updike's observations of the culture are well-written, there's little story to speak of. In "The Last of the Caribs," the authorsuccessfully merges his interest in writing about both romantic need and culture clashes. Following a married man foolishly flirting with a young woman in the Lesser Antilles, he displays a rich knowledge of the Caribbean landscape and nicely captures the quiet despair of the protagonist. Thoughtful and restrained work from a writer clearly unintimidated by the family name.

Product Details

St. Martin's Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.76(w) x 8.62(h) x 0.83(d)

Meet the Author

DAVID UPDIKE is the author of Out on the Marsh as well as an illustrated quartet for young readers: A Winter Journey, An Autumn Tale, A Spring Story, and The Sounds of Summer. His short stories have been published in The New Yorker, Epiphany, and Sargasso, among others. He is also a photographer and photographically illustrated the children's book, A Helpful Alphabet of Friendly Objects, written by his late father, writer John Updike. He teaches English at Roxbury Community College in Boston and lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with his family.

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Old Girlfriends 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Alfredo17 More than 1 year ago
This book contains fine short stories of romance and subtle romantic troubles. The work seems more romantic and les cynical and ironic than the work of John Updike.
wightknyte More than 1 year ago
These stories have a certain plainly-spoken elegance that I enjoy. The masterful stroke in this collection is the thread of emotional tenderness that runs through all the stories. This emotional connection to other people interrelates the stories just as it interrelates the characters to each other and the rest of humanity. It's beautifully handled. Tender and powerful yet. Never melodramatic or overdone. The stories are all different, but they all share this same marvelous emotional tenderness. Well worth the read.