OUT ON THE MARSH by David Updike


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Any one story in this first collection of over a dozen is worth reading, but together the pieces form a compendium of dull impressions, all of which serve to illustrate the difficult passage of boys into the ""real world"" of ""grownups"" (both in quotation marks in Updike's text). Whether in the first person or third, Updike's fictions feature puerile protagonists who suffer from a premature weariness and an unintentionally funny sobriety. Far from the bright lights of the drug-ridden big city, the sensitive souls in these otherwise humorless tales nevertheless display an unseemly self-absorption, and they do so at a very early age. ""First Impressions,"" a narrative with Proustian aspirations, is nothing more than a collage of memories, organized in no particular fashion. While the ""I"" of that story remembers crawling, his first friends, neighborhood bullies, and his psychosomatic headaches, the ""I"" of ""The Cushion of Time"" recalls wondering, as a third grader, ""Am I happy?"" In a voice that sounds no different from all the other narrators here, he recollects his first baseball glove and his first kiss, and also works in the overwrought moral: "". . .I had learned that the deceits and uncertainties of the world beyond were sometimes less important than our town hopes and beliefs."" And that's before he reaches puberty! As a literary impressionist of sorts, Updike's big on natural detail, regardless of its relevance to the subject at hand. A number of stories are more or less defined by the season during which the events occur: ""Summer"" follows a young man's ""inarticulate passion"" for his friend's sister over the course of a summer; ""Spring"" charts another affair, one that results from a combination of ""love, lust, [and] confusion,"" and that of course happens while flowers bloom; in ""Winter,"" another young fellow recovers from a ""dissolved relationship."" Though there's no ""Fall"" here, there is ""Indian Summer""--the somber record of a trip to Ohio, where the narrator visits his octogenarian grandmother, and thinks of death. Other pieces here dwell on the ""inescapable loneliness"" of impending adulthood and the ""inexplicable sadness"" of late adolescent romance. Updike's boys truly suffer a lot, whether it's witnessing the death of their beloved dog or the end of their parents' marriage. But their puppy angst also makes for much sloppy sentimentality, unrelieved by the monotonous prose.

Pub Date: June 29th, 1988
Publisher: Godine