John Updike’s 18 stories charting the marriage and divorce of Joan and Richard Maples.
John Updike, who died at 76 this past January, has had more books published this year than many writers achieve in a lifetime. This spring, his last story collection, “My Father’s Tears,” followed his last poetry collection, “Endpoint.” Both feature elegiac explorations of aging and mortality that he was working on into his final illness.
The Maples Stories, by contrast, gathers together for the first time in hardcover all 18 stories that he wrote between 1956 and the mid-1980s about the strained marriage and protracted, painful divorce of Joan and Richard Maple. All but the last, “Grandparenting,” were collected in a 1979 paperback edition titled “Too Far To Go” that tied in with a television adaptation. Thirteen of the stories also appear sprinkled throughout the superb 2003 compendium, “The Early Stories: 1953-1975.”
Although there was no urgent need, it’s nice to have all of the Maples stories repackaged together in a handsome Everyman edition.
These scenes from a marriage encapsulate what many associate with classic Updike: iconic tales such as “Your Lover Just Called” and “The Taste of Metal” set in wealthy New England coastal suburbs where the husband commutes to work while his well-educated, politically engaged wife stays home tending their children, who are largely offstage. Front and center are the neighborhood parties, “fishing” expeditions for the extramarital affairs that largely occupy the adults. It’s all described in luscious, luminous prose.