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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Thursday, December 18, 2014

The meaning of the Updike story You'll Never Know, Dear ...

Enjoying the very beautiful posthumous Everyman edition of the long-out-of-print Olinger Stories, by John Updike; though obviously all of these stories have appeared in various other Updike collections, this was I think the only one to draw together his pre-1964 stories based on his youth in his hometown of Shillington. They are not the "connected stories" novel that has become such a staple of writing programs over the past 25 years or so - as U notes in his smart, of course, intro, they were not written in sequence nor meant to be taken literally as a memoir - the protag's name changes and there are inconsistencies of detail. They are stories on a theme, however, and the them overall is his "search for lost time," his attempt through art to recollect his childhood and his hometown, which, though he could not have known this in 1964, would provide him with a lifetime of material. U makes a significant observation in the intro, which is that in writing these stories and bring his past into the present through art, he has also lost touch with the past - the act of recollection is also the act of letting go. I do not mean to compare myself with Updike in any significant way, but I have found this to be exactly true for me as well. Many of my friends remark on my excellent memory for past events, but I have found that once I write about past events in stories or longer fiction, the memory fades and is no longer accessible - or maybe no longer needed. I wonder if other writers find this to be true. Read the first 2 stories - I know I've read all of the stories in the collection before - over a long period of time. The first, You'll Never Know Dear, How Much I Love You (a lyric from You Are My Sunshine) is one of his greats: a 10-year-old boy cadges 50 cents from his father and goes off to the local fair, watches some women sing the song of the title and feels an unexplainable, to him, yearning for them - sensing the sexuality in the air around him, a world dominated by adults, he's just pint-sized and, surprisingly, alone. Then he loses him money nickle by nickle at a numbered spinning wheel. In a sense, the story is about two view of God and fate: the Christian god who offers us his love and his light (Sunshine, the title of the story) and the cold God of fate and destiny, a spinning wheel that may lead to fortune or failure. (The debt to Joyce's Araby is also apparent.) 2nd story touches on a universal theme of adolescence: new girl comes into school, everyone teases her because she's different; the narrator, bit of a nerd and outsider, leads the way in teasing, thinking this will make him acceptable to the "in" crowd; eventually he realizes that he is in love w/ the girl. As he begins to "court" her, and she rebuffs, he realizes that she has emerged as the "queen" of the class, and he's the last to know. Of course, had he been nice to her from the outset, his fate would be different. Two great stories, in a handsome edition that uses 2 New Yorker covers from the era for covers front and back.

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