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The Early Stories: 1953-1975 Paperback – 7 Apr 2005

4.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 864 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (7 April 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141016086
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141016085
  • Product Dimensions: 15.4 x 5.5 x 23.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 520,378 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

"Classic gems . . . These stories, like Mr. Updike's finest novels . . . preserve a time and a place through the sorcery of words."--"The New York Times"
"[Updike is] akin to Coleridge and Shelley, only with an American twist. One story at a time, he [reminds] Americans that in spite of life's largesse, things fail; one sentence at a time, he reveals that through the small details, it can be sublime."--"The Denver Post"
"Updike's artistry--normally glimpsed in sections, like a person through window slats--is wholly and deeply seen. . . . One reads through the plenitude with delight, expectation, and at all times gratitude."--"The Atlantic Monthly"

Classic gems . . . These stories, like Mr. Updike s finest novels . . . preserve a time and a place through the sorcery of words. "The New York Times"
[Updike is] akin to Coleridge and Shelley, only with an American twist. One story at a time, he [reminds] Americans that in spite of life s largesse, things fail; one sentence at a time, he reveals that through the small details, it can be sublime. "The Denver Post"
Updike s artistry normally glimpsed in sections, like a person through window slats is wholly and deeply seen. . . . One reads through the plenitude with delight, expectation, and at all times gratitude. "The Atlantic Monthly"" --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From the Inside Flap

""He is a religious writer; he is a comic realist; he knows what everything feels like, how everything works. He is putting together a body of work which in substantial intelligent creation will eventually be seen as second to none in our time."
--William H. Pritchard, The Hudson Review, reviewing Museums and Women (1972)
A harvest and not a winnowing, "The Early Stories preserves almost all of the short fiction John Updike published between 1954 and 1975.
The stories are arranged in eight sections, of which the first, "Olinger Stories," already appeared as a paperback in 1964; in its introduction, Updike described Olinger, Pennsylvania, as "a square mile of middle-class homes physically distinguished by a bend in the central avenue that compels some side streets to deviate from the grid pattern." These eleven tales, whose heroes age from ten to over thirty but remain at heart Olinger boys, are followed by groupings titled "Out in the World," "Married Life," and "Family Life," tracing a common American trajectory. Family life is disrupted by the advent of "The Two Iseults," a bifurcation originating in another small town, Tarbox, Massachusetts, where the Puritan heritage co-exists with post-Christian morals. "Tarbox Tales" are followed by "Far Out," a group of more or less experimental fictions on the edge of domestic space, and "The Single Life," whose protagonists are unmarried and unmoored.
Of these one hundred three stories, eighty first appeared in "The New Yorker, and the other twenty-three in journals from the enduring "Atlantic Monthly and "Harper's to the defunct "Big Table and" Transatlantic Review. All show Mr. Updike's wit and verbal felicity, his reverencefor ordinary life, and his love of the transient world.

"From the Hardcover edition. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I am a long-standing fan of Updike's short stories (though less so of his novels), and my three-star rating of this book is not a reflection of my general opinion of him as a writer. Nevertheless, I do have some issues with this particular volume.

I think that it was a mistake to collect over 100 short stories under one cover with virtually no sieving. Updike made his living from writing and, and as far as I understand, he never held a regular job after he resigned from the New Yorker at the age of 25 - so I would be the last person to blame him for having published some short stories that were not quite to his general standard. When a small collection contains a couple of such works, this is usually not a problem. The situation inevitably becomes different on a scale of 100+ samples: the gap in quality between the best 10 and the weakest 10 of them is massive, and it is impossible not to notice this. I do not think that exposing his lesser works against the background of so many great stories found in this volume has done Updike's standing any good. I own virtually all collections of short stories ever published by him, and in my opinion he emerges a better author from each of his individual early collections than from this volume that combines their content.

I did not like the fact that while putting together this book Updike decided to change a few things here and there. In particular, the last sentence of the wonderful 'Dentistry and Doubt' is way too subtle in its revised version, and I suspect that some readers may now miss the whole point of the ending: I probably would, had I not read the story the way it was originally published.

Giving the hardback a deckle edge was a bad idea.
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Format: Hardcover
The Early Years has been a revelation and a reminder of how good writing can be.
The characters seem to exist before and after the short story. In terms of story and heart, it engages, and with precision, he brings us to the poetry of everyday life.
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Format: Kindle Edition
brilliant pellucid writing by the master of the short story... would recommend to anyone who wants to understand the 20th century
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
wonderful!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x886edb94) out of 5 stars 35 reviews
59 of 65 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x8871172c) out of 5 stars Everyday brilliance 12 Mar. 2004
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I never much liked Updike's short stories until I started writing short stories myself. Many of the complaints people have with Updike are legitimate. He is usually light on plot. There is virtually no physical action--no fistfights, no murders, no sobbing confessions. But that, to me, is part of Updike's genius.
He always takes the difficult road. He doesn't simply have a husband cheat on his wife; instead, he has the husband worry that he will cheat on his wife, and then he considers the implications. I disagree with critics who accuse Updike of being unemotional. His stories are tangles of pure emotion.
My favorite story in the collection is "Packed Dirt, Churchgoing, A Dying Cat, A Traded Car." It's set up as a series of essays that eventually carry the reader into a story about the author's dying father. It feels like a compilation of random events until you get ot the last line, and then you realize that everything is connected, everything has a purpose. It may be the most beautiful ending I've ever read. (The second most beautiful ending is in "The Happiest I've Been.")
Updike is not for everyone. If you like simple, straightforward stories, read Tobias Wolff (he is amazing in a totally different way). But if you're interested in a world vivid with details--a world with no easy questions, let alone answers--try Updike.
One caveat: read slowly--the magic is more in the words than the paragraphs.
29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x88711b94) out of 5 stars To sieve or not to sieve 19 Oct. 2009
By Oldthinker - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I am a long-standing fan of Updike's short stories (though less so of his novels), and my three-star rating of this book is not a reflection of my general opinion of him as a writer. Nevertheless, I do have some issues with this particular volume.

I think that it was a mistake to collect over 100 short stories under one cover with virtually no sieving. Updike made his living from writing and, and as far as I understand, he never held a regular job after he resigned from the New Yorker at the age of 25 - so I would be the last person to blame him for having published some short stories that were not quite to his general standard. When a small collection contains a couple of such works, this is usually not a problem. The situation inevitably becomes different on a scale of 100+ samples: the gap in quality between the best 10 and the weakest 10 of them is massive, and it is impossible not to notice this. I do not think that exposing his lesser works against the background of so many great stories found in this volume has done Updike's standing any good. I own virtually all collections of short stories ever published by him, and in my opinion he emerges a better author from each of his individual early collections than from this volume that combines their content.

I did not like the fact that while putting together this book Updike decided to change a few things here and there. In particular, the last sentence of the wonderful 'Dentistry and Doubt' is way too subtle in its revised version, and I suspect that some readers may now miss the whole point of the ending: I probably would, had I not read the story the way it was originally published.

Giving the hardback a deckle edge was a bad idea. This feature should really be reserved for luxury editions; the combination of ordinary binding and artificially deckled ordinary paper looks anything but tasteful; in fact, it looks cheap. More importantly, a deckle fore-edge makes it very difficult to browse through the book; locating a particular story in this volume is a constant source of frustration, so I seldom open it any longer. If the publishers were absolutely set on deckling, they should have molested the head or tail edge (or both); the fore-edge needs to be smoothly cut because it has an important practical function: the reader slides his or her thumb across it when looking for something in the book.
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x88711bb8) out of 5 stars the best book of 2003, likely the best book of the decade 29 Nov. 2003
By Robert Johnson - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Why is there not more hoopla about this extraordinary volume? Although every story has been published before, the effect of reading them all through at once (at about a story a day since its publication, I am about a fifth of the way through) is stunning. In 1972, Vladimir Nabokov said that the greatest short stories of the past fifty years were written in America and he cited Updike as among its most inspired practitioners. He said, "I like so many of Updike's stories that it was difficult to choose one for demonstration and even more difficult to settle on its most inspired bit". Nabokov and Updike share the distinction of being the greatest American writers of the last half-century not to win a Nobel prize and the list of winners is made poor by their absence. American fiction writing does not get any better than this.
23 of 27 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x88711edc) out of 5 stars Only Human 14 Dec. 2003
By Eric J. Lyman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I think that in many important ways, John Updike is America's best living writer, with a long history of unmatched insights and integrity, complex and believable characters, and a range that stretches (with great success) from criticism to essays and from poetry to prose.
The Early Stories is a testament to and a forum examining the fiction side of Mr. Updike's talents, including every short story (every one!) he ever published up until 1975, when he was 43 years old. This book is more than 800 pages long, and so I assume that the post-1975 stories were held out both in order to make sure the book could be lifted without strain or (more likely) as the stuff for a second mammoth volume of this great writer's work.
Most of us already know at least a few of the 102 stories in this thick book (I read one, "A & P," when I was in high school, long before I became a fan of Mr. Updike's work, and I didn't even realize he had been the author of it until I saw it again here), and many of the ones we don't know will reveal themselves as gems. But also -- fortunately or unfortunately -- many of the stories here simply don't work: the plots are either dated, or the characters or their motivations are too thin.
Curiously, I am unsure about whether this is positive or negative. I dismiss the possibility that the uneven quality here is natural when examining the work of a young writer not yet fully in control of his powers. After all, Mr. Updike had already created his two most memorable characters -- Rabbit Angstrom and Henry Bech (who appears in this book) -- before most of these stories came to life.
Instead, I see this as welcome proof that Mr. Updike is human, that he doesn't produce something awe inspiring every time his pen touches paper. That's the same realization I had when I saw my boyhood sports hero, quarterback Bob Greise, in a live game for the first time and all he seemed to do was get sacked and throw interceptions and incomplete passes all afternoon. In both cases, it's not the way I would have written the script, but perhaps it makes the truly great performances (and they are here, too) seem even better.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x88530024) out of 5 stars An essential collection, and in a class by itself 19 Dec. 2006
By Billy Pilgrim - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Many of these stories were originally published in short story collections (The Same Door, Museums and Women, Problems) that are long out of print and difficult to find. That alone makes this worth owning. Then there is the fact that this represents the collected work of an indisputedly talented and influential writer coming strong out of the gate and finding his voice, at a remarkably young age, before settling into a career and a life.

It is fascinating to observe this evolution and growth, as it happens over two decades, as he moves from, say, "Friends from Philadelphia", which is literal and straightforward, to the Barthelmesque (I don't if that's a word, but it should be) "Problems", which is self-reverential and self-mocking, yet also darkly funny, hinting as it does at the way life has affected the artist and his work. There is the longer "Pigeon Feathers", the (very) short "Eclipse", and the effortlessly brilliant "How to Love America and Leave It at the Same Time". Not to mention the Maple stories (which I'd already read in their collected form in Too Far To Go), the classic "A&P", and about, oh, 80 or 90 others, not all of them gems, or even successes, but fascinating and worth reading nonetheless. Add to this the fact that you can observe, through Updike's writing, the country moving from Mid-Century domesticity to Sixties' upheaval and Seventies' rudderlessness and confusion, and you have a truly indispensable collection.

There is also the added bonus of Updike's introduction, in which he reveals his life at the time (married and a father early in his twenties), who escaped to an office to write during the day so he could support his family by selling these stories to the New Yorker. An unexpected, and unexpectedly normal, glimpse of the author and his workings, it's an insight which gives me a new appreciation for these stories and how and why they came to be.

Lastly, don't be daunted by the heft and bulk of this tome, and don't be afraid to pick and choose which stories you read, and in what order...they have a way of staying with you long after you're done reading them.
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