Friday, May 23, 2008

The New Yorker: "The Full Glass" by John Updike

I probably have a duty to dislike a story by John Updike in The New Yorker, but, unfortunately, this is one I do like. It lacks plot, although it does have anyway something of a narrative arc as the protagonist, who claims that he lacks introspection, recalls the general outlines of his life. The organization for the story is that he is thinking of his peculiar habits, but this becomes recollection of the times in his life when he felt satisfied. This both relates to the “full glass” which is one of his peculiar habits (think glass half full, no not half, but completely full) and also the notion of being full, being fulfilled. He has not led an exemplary life—he recalls the details of an affair—but his marriage survived and he doesn’t seem to regret what he did.

That’s part of the point: he can’t regret anything because everything contributed to his full life. So, there’s not much plot, but the character is deep. A child of the depression raised by country grandparents, attracted to simple pleasures, briefly saddled with an unsuitable career, he is satisfied with the choices he made.

The story is also filled with great images, including that of the water strider on still water. He recalls this from his childhood, but it also enters his observation of his sleeping wife when he himself is restless: “I can’t fall back into unconsciousness, like a water strider held aloft on the surface tension of her beautiful stillness.” That was worth the price of admission right there. I don’t know that I’ll remember this story as being great when I’m listing the year’s best, but for the moment I like this one.

May 26, 2008: "The Full Glass" by John Updike

4 comments:

Mary Akers said...

I liked it, too. I didn't want to, because I'm sick of seeing the same bylines over and over in The New Yorker, but I did. It held me for the whole read, engagingly.

Cezarija Abartis said...

I agree with both of you: the story held me sentence by sentence. I loved the last paragraph:

The shaving mirror hangs in front of a window overlooking the sea. The sea is always full, flat as a floor. Or almost: there is a delicate planetary bulge in it, supporting a few shadowy freighters and cruise ships making their motionless way out of Boston Harbor. At night, the horizon springs a rim of lights—more, it seems, every year. Winking airplanes from the corners of the earth descend on a slant, a curved groove in the air, toward the unseen airport in East Boston. My life-prolonging pills cupped in my left hand, I lift the glass, its water sweetened by its brief wait on the marble sink-top. If I can read this strange old guy’s mind aright, he’s drinking a toast to the visible world, his impending disappearance from it be damned.

sjwoo said...

Just read this at the airport and loved it. I enjoyed Updike's last one, "Outage," too, though like you say here, this one has no real structure. I've been reading Updike's stories in TNY for years, and I must say, now that he's in the twilight of his years, I feel a certain assuredness whenever he writes like this, about an old person's life, looking back at his youth. Both Updike and Munro currently have this market cornered in TNY, and as readers, I think we're very fortune to have two fine writers sharing their thoughts with us.

I'm also not too fond of seeing the same familiar names in TNY, but neither Updike nor Munro are gonna be around for too much longer, so it's okay. Let them have their say.

Clifford Garstang said...

sjwoo, you make a good point