May 21, 2016

"I uncrease the bill, tenderly as you may imagine, it just having come from between the two smoothest scoops of vanilla I had ever known were there..."

"... and pass a half and a penny into her narrow pink palm, and nestle the herrings in a bag and twist its neck and hand it over, all the time thinking."

A sentence from the John Updike story "A&P," which Meade made me look up after I observed that I had a theme going on the blog this morning.

11 comments:

Luke Lea said...

I adore Updike but think A&P one of his weakest stories. Why every high school student in the land is assigned it is beyond me.

Laslo Spatula said...

Detail upon detail in search of a fetish.

I am Laslo.

Laslo Spatula said...

John Updike with a foot fetish:

There was this chunky one, with the plastic sandals you always buy at the start of summer, and her feet were wide with nubbly toes, not the kind I like, no thank you -- there was this one, with one of those chubby berry-faces and chubby berry toes, and a tall one, with black hair that hadn't quite frizzed right, and toes that were too long -- you know, the kind of feet other girls think is very "striking" and "attractive" but never quite makes it, as they very well know, which is why they like her so much -- and then the third one, that wasn't quite so tall but was barefoot. She was the queen, and had the graceful toes of indifferent royalty. Her feet were exquisite, meant to walk in the sand at Monaco. She kind of led them, the other two peeking around and making their feet less conspicuous...

I am Laslo.

Ann Althouse said...

"I adore Updike but think A&P one of his weakest stories. Why every high school student in the land is assigned it is beyond me."

Good question. It's from after my time in high school. We read Nathaniel Hawthorne stories. That's all I remember. So I looked up what SparkNotes identifies as the themes and motifs (on the theory that's about what teachers think they're getting at):

"One of the things Sammy comes to understand during the course of “A&P” is how close he is to being assimilated into the corporate structure represented by the A&P. At the beginning of the story, Sammy is quite clear that he is unlike the “sheep” and “houseslaves” milling about the aisles of the store. Sammy is equally confident that he is neither a chump like Stokesie, who wants to climb the management ladder, nor a flunky like Lengel, who haggles over cabbages and hides behind his office door all day. As he surveys the scene, Sammy is comfortable behind his wised-up, sarcastic attitude. However, all this self-confidence is shaken by the three girls who enter the store in their bathing suits, and especially by the beautiful leader of the group. From the start, Updike emphasizes the disruptive effect the girls have on the usual order of the store...."

Lots of leftist and feminist material there.

I assume it's considered a good demonstration of how to write. Characters developed by how they look and their little gestures, etc. etc.

Paco Wové said...

"Lots of leftist and feminist material there."

Back in my day, it was all about the socioeconomic class differences.

Roughcoat said...

This post reminds me, painfully, that getting a B.A. in English Lit was a complete waste of time, effort, and money.

I hated almost everything I was required to read as an English Lit major in the 60s and 70s. So why did I major in English Lit? Because I was stupid.

Ann Althouse said...

@Roughcoat What did they make you read and what did you want to read?

Sydney said...

I once read a science fiction story by Updike. It was just as sex obsessed as the rest of his writing. It was also terrible.

The Cracker Emcee said...


"Back in my day, it was all about the socioeconomic class differences."

Mine, too. Sammy is a prole with aspirations. He gives his down-market version of The Man the finger while under the gaze of what symbolizes the life he hopes to have. I always thought Updike's subtext was pretty clear, though. Sammy isn't going anywhere. Jump forward thirty years and Sammy is still in his hometown, a divorced part-time paralegal, with long hair though his hairline has receded to the top of his head, driving a ratty Datsun pick-up, and hanging out with the aging hippie that owns the dying video store.

Smilin' Jack said...

Lots of leftist and feminist material there.

I assume it's considered a good demonstration of how to write. Characters developed by how they look and their little gestures, etc. etc.


"You never know for sure how girls' minds work (do you really think it's a mind in there or just a little buzz like a bee in a glassjar?)"

I've become convinced it's more like a dial tone.

Ann Althouse said...

I must cofess I haven't read the story yet.