Monday, February 20, 2006

My Father's Tears - John Updike

The New Yorker has graced us this week with "My Father's Tears," a new John Updike story.

After reading this story once, my first reaction is to note how different this story is from most of the stories we see, in which the scaffolds of craft are fairly apparent. This story is (and I've been blistered for using this word before, but here goes) a tapestry of detail, as are many of Updike's stories, and it is the richness of detail and the quality of prose that carries the story along. In telling the narrator's life story, more or less, it reads like a memoir.

I intend to come back to this. All I'll note for now is the story's frame. It begins:
Come to think of it, I saw my father cry only once.
Such a disarmingly conversational tone. This friendly rib-nudging can become tiresome, but of course Updike doesn't over do it; he uses it only to invite the reader in.

The one time the narrator saw his father cry was when the narrator said goodbye before returning to college.

The frame is closed at the end of the story, when the narrator has been called home from a European vacation to find that his father has died. The narrator finds that he can't cry for his father.
She put her arms around me in the bed and told me, “Cry.” Though I saw the opportunity, and the rightness of it, I don’t believe I did. My father’s tears had used up mine.
I'm not sure why that would be the case, but Updike has tidily returned to the opening. A small bit of craft, after all.