Why I love the A&P

“The deaths of others carry us off bit by bit, until there will be nothing left; and this too will be, in a way, a mercy.”
-John Updike.

The Vodo posted that quote on Facebook today. It’s pretty awesome and I wish I had found it first. Damn. It also makes me wish that I appreciated Updike’s writing more. I have to admit that I haven’t read a whole lot of his work. I read Witches of Eastwick on accident when I was in college, because I couldn’t seem to keep John Updike and John Irving straight.

I distinctly remember trying a few novels from the Rabbit series and those not clicking with me the same way A Prayer for Owen Meany clicked with me. I wasn’t the brightest 19-year-old coed on the face of the Earth.

However, I love his short story “A&P” with the kind of passion only 16-year-old girls can have. I remember reading it in 11th grade American Lit and feeling overjoyed. It was probably the first thing we read all year that I actually dug. Up to that point it had been all Hemingway and Hawthorne and The Crucible (sorry Arthur Miller, but the Goodie stuff drove me nuts).

It was a pleasure to read “A&P” because we got to just read it. We didn’t detect symbolism or dissect metaphor. There was no essay on comparing and contrasting. There was just a discussion about what we thought and why we enjoyed it (or didn’t) and what did he mean when he said, “I felt how hard the world was going to be to me hereafter.”

Thank you for giving me that experience, Mr. Updike. May you rest in peace.

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4 Comments

  1. Barrett Chase 28.Jan.09 at 11:05 am

    I read the first three Rabbit books when I was in my early 20s. By the time I got to the third one, I had to admit to myself that I wasn’t old enough to appreciate them. (Well, I could almost appreciate the first one, but not really.)

    Now I think I should re-read the first two, since I’m old enough to get it. At least for those two.

    Reply
  2. Phil 28.Jan.09 at 2:31 pm

    I had just been given Due Considerations (a collection of nonfiction from Updike)for Christmas and resignedly opened it. Updike simultaneously annoyed me and impressed me. While I found some of his views of women, race, and the middle class stagnant and monolithic, he was undoubtedly a very powerful writer on the human condition. We may not like his choice of subject matter at times. I believe it partailly the fact that most of us came from a similar middle class background and are dying to escape it. Although, that version of middle class died out a while back. But the big reason I believe he never acheived the noble was that he wrote about rather unglamorous people and smaller undramatic situations. The fact that he addressed the larger themes that all great writers do probably didn’t sink it for those expecting literary fireworks.

    Reply
  3. jags 30.Jan.09 at 12:06 pm

    Thanks for posting the link to A&P. I’d discounted Updike for so many years and then yesterday, I read that wonderful story as well as the quote Rob posted.

    Reply
  4. shelaka 01.Feb.09 at 2:29 pm

    I’m a little freaked out. A little while ago, you asked what people were reading, and I mentioned I’d just finished Rabbit at Rest. I had rediscoverd my copies of the first 3 Rabbit novels, and, like Barrett above, I had read them in my early 20’s, probably too young to fully grasp them. But I really liked Updike’s attention to detail of the U.S, in times he wrote about (1960, 1971, 1980, & 1990). He covered quite an arc. I skimmed through them a bit. While looking for reviews on the internets, I found out there was a fourth book, about Rabbit’s waning years. Weird!

    Reply

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