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