Reflection and reconsideration abound in the late (1932–2009) great author’s final finished collection of stories.
The mood is unmistakably autumnal, as we encounter elderly males who explore familiar surroundings and simultaneously consolatory and troubling memories (“Personal Archaeology,” “The Road Home,” “My Father’s Tears”); straying husbands burdened by conflicted remembrance of long-ago thrills (“Free,” “The Walk with Elizanne”); and seniors abroad, adapting timidly yet eagerly to the promises and threats of cultures that are foreign in a dizzying multiplicity of ways (“Morocco,” “Spanish Prelude to a Second Marriage”). Just as a representative Updike youngster intuits that he “can never be an ordinary, everyday boy,” so do his counterparts at the far end of the aging spectrum clearly foresee their own absorption into the universal and infinite. Among the more telling examples: the victim of a mugging while vacationing in Spain, who understands that—like the physically universe ultimately reducible to the prophecies of “cosmic theory”—he is simply wearing out (“The Accelerating Expansion of the Universe”); the psoriasis patient helped by an innovative treatment (“Blue Light”) which reconciles him to his place as an integral part of an ever-changing world; and the near-octogenarian who relives his early years as a prelude to surrendering their continuation in his senescence (“The Full Glass”). There are missteps: stories too discursive to bear much dramatic weight, and a gathering of involved perspectives of the 9/11 catastrophe that seems a test run for Updike’s 2006 novel Terrorist. But the ache of knowing and celebrating how we’ve lived, what it all may mean and where we’re going give this final testament a beauty and gravity that crown a brilliant, enduring life’s work and legacy.
A fine final act.