My Father's Tears is Updike's last book of short stories, published a few months after he died. That it is a posthumous work is poignant: a collection of fictional memories and old age anecdotes, it exudes a before-the-grave redolence, a sense that the author knew these were his last moments in this world. The stories are unconnected, but they all have aging men as protagonists, they all are about looking back or dealing with one's declining years.
My Father's Tears' tone and style is not, say, that of a Raymond Carver, made of tiny crucial twists and hinging on odd but telling details and situations. Rather, these are pedal-tone codas, sepia pictures of remembered depression and war-era childhoods, ruminations on a changed world. The lens is turned towards long-buried relationships only evoked again thanks to a glimpsed suburban alley, a school reunion; or, kaleidoscope-like, it sees dissolved family bonds reconfigure under new, variegated patterns.
Most of the stories are set in small East Coast towns, and the reader could be forgiven for believing the divorce rate in New England is 100%, with everyone having affairs the whole community knows about, but fair enough: painful emotional choices make for more engaging fiction. In the middle of the book is a piece about 9/11: slightly eye-rolling, but I suppose American authors felt they had to do that. Nor is the collection devoid of an autobiographical air. I found the stories got better towards the end, that their pace became more varied and their lessons richer. Perhaps it is just that one gets into their slow, nostalgic stride, or that the message sinks in that old age, the approach of death, are manageable prospects after all. Maybe, retrospectively, this is a book best to be read after the age of forty.