Last week the Wall Street Journal published an excerpt from My Father’s Tears, a posthumous collection of John Updike’s stories. The selection is from “Morocco,” which opens the book and is, despite being a lyrical description of an exotic locale, one of its least memorable stories. It’s also the only story in My Father’s Tears written before the past decade. This may not be a coincidence: As I wrote on Barnes & Noble today, “the best of these stories make the reader see and feel old age, regardless of his own age. It isn’t often pleasant, but it’s an illuminating experience nonetheless, one very rarely afforded by contemporary fiction.”
“The Walk with Elizanne” introduces the theme of senescence in the setting where Americans are most likely to struggle with it: a high school class reunion. In this case, it’s a golden 50th. The story begins with David Kern, who also makes an appearance in “The Road Home” (published in The New Yorker in 2005 under the title “The Roads of Home”), visiting “the sick class member, Mamie Kauffman, in the hospital room where she has lain for six weeks, her bones too riddled with cancer for her to walk.”
Mamie Kauffman isn’t the focus of the story. That honor goes to the titular Elizanne, David Kern having been her first kiss—he comes to remember this as an almost mystical encounter. But it is in David’s meeting with Mamie that Updike shows the reach of his empathy and imagination . . .
Read the whole thing here, and I hope I’ll have convinced you to buy the book, which really is a wonderful capstone to Updike’s career and life.