Thursday, January 02, 2014

Updike, ‘Ace In The Hole’ / New Year

Full of the enthusiasm of a New Year, I’m planning on working my way through Updike’s short stories this year. Updike has experienced a decline in reputation, it seems to me, and is seen as somewhat of a dinosaur now, and self-indulgent, too. I always loved him as a stylist, but only a few of his novels I loved without reservation – some I had to put down (Toward The End of Time, ugh). I think probably as a poet and an author of short stories (the latter in particular) he was at his very best.

The first story I read, in the magnificently presented new collected stories published by the Library of America, was also the first notable story he wrote. Ace In The Hole prefigures Rabbit somewhat; a short tale of a young man at odds with the world of work and not succeeding in his own efforts to raise a family. A man who’d rather be on the court, bouncing a basketball.

This bit really struck me. perhaps because I’ve spent a lot of time playing with, observing and marvelling at Vic’s baby daughter this year. But also because it’s in the acute observation of such vital and intimate details of life that Updike evolves beyond the accusations of dinosaur-hood, I think.

In two steps, Ace was at Bonnie’s crib, picking the rattle out of the mess of blocks and plastic rings and beanbags. He extended the rattle toward his daughter, shaking it delicately. Made wary by this burst of attention, Bonnie reached with both hands; like two separate animals they approached from opposite sides and touched the smooth rattle simultaneously. A smile worked up her face. Ace tugged weakly. She held on, and then tugged back.
Terrific. Looking forward to reading more.

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