Updike's "40 Stories" is a selection of short stories taken from other compilations of short stories published between 1959 and 1972. It is the first Updike that I have read and I will definitely be reading more in the future. The stories are (loosely) arranged to reflect the growth of their central characters. The first section ("Olinger Stories") concentrates on the pains of growing up, and the first exposure the sadnesses of the world, and to the confusions that dog our existence. The second section ("Out in the World") focuses on adolescence, and the rites of passage that attend the transition from childhood to adulthood. The final section ("Tarbox Tales") is a melancholy reflection on the disappointments of being an adult. The themes underpinning many of the stories in the book are religion and sex, but the collection delves much deeper than these, right into the heart of American life, which is made to seem both insane and mundane in equal measure. Updike gives the impression of someone ill at ease with his world, yet perfectly poised to chronicle his own sense of bewilderment and antipathy. The prose is beautiful and heartbreaking, and Updike seems to be both in love with the world and simultaneously let down by it. This is not an especially happy read, but it is not without hope. I am a big fan of short stories, and "Forty Stories" goes right to the top end of my list. It is beautiful and sad in equal measure, and Updike's prose is right up there with the best of twentieth century American writers. Definitely a strong recommendation from me.
Even the shortest of stories hold a lot of detail, the scenes are so well set and there is a very strong sense of time and place. I don't always understand his conclusions but the getting there is always a rewarding read. I am new to Updike but it is easy to see why he is so acclaimed.