In one of John Updike’s early stories, the narrator urges us to contemplate his dead grandmother’s thimble.1 Moving through a dark house, heading downstairs, he upends a sewing basket left on the landing. The moment’s dislocation encourages one of Updike’s greatest strengths, his flair for simile and metaphor. Retrieving the thimble from the floor, briefly uncertain what it is, he describes it as a “stemless chalice of silver weighing a fraction of an ounce.” The metaphor’s religious overtones are brightly suited to his succeeding sensations: “the valves of time parted, and after an interval of years my grandmother was upon me again, and it seemed incumbent upon me, necessary...


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