Monday, April 13, 2009

When Everyone Was Pregnant by John Updike


My relationship with John Updike has been conflicted from the beginning. I love his use of language, and recognize that he is a truly talented and prolific writer. However, his novels ( at least the few I have read) often disappoint or fail to live up to my expectations. I absolutely loved In The Beauty of The Lilies ten years ago, but didn't think as much of the novels I read after that - most recenty The Witches of Eastwick. In an attempt to leave my relationship with John Updike on a positive note, I have turned to one of his earlier short stories.

When Everyone Was Pregnant, written in 1971, is Updike's love song to the 1950's. It opens:

"I'm in securities, but I read a lot, on the train. Read yesterday that the Fifties were coming back..But my Fifties won't come back.
Kind years to me. Entered them poor and left them comfortable. Entered them chaste and left them a father...Those were the years when everyone was pregnant. Not only kind but beautiful years."

There is a hint of wistfulness from the beginning. The man on a train sends the signal that time is passing. This beautiful, lyrical love song is actually an elegy to the 50's.

"Guiltless. Our fat Fifties cars, how we loved them, revved them: no thought of pollution. Exhaust smoke, cigarette smoke, factory smoke, all romantic. Romance of consumption at its height."
"...How young we were. The men scrawny as boys. Laughable, military haircuts: the pea-brain look. The women with bangs and lipsticked smiles. We look drunk. Sometimes we were."

Surely after the 30' and 40's, the 1950's must have seemed idyllic. The Eisenhower era was good to Updike's generation. But time moved on.

"The babies got bigger. The parties got wilder...Scary tide, strong moon, could see the women had aged...over the ocean, riots. Assassinations, protests, a decade's overdue bills heaped like surf thunder on the sandbar. We were no longer young..."

The sixties have obviously arrived. The man on the train is still making these notes, but his hand is shaking. He is left wondering:

"Did the Fifties exist? ...the train slides forward. The decades slide seaward, taking us along. I am still afraid. Still grateful."

What a beautiful, yet melancholic, love story. Yes, I love John Updike again. Perhaps I should stick to his short stories.
Visit The Book Mine Set to see who else is talking about short stories today.

8 comments:

  1. The 50's ----- post war happiness.

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  2. The way you describe it, it sounds like a drunken binge. The hangover was inevitable.

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  3. I have the same type of relationship with Orwell. Although when I think about it, it isn't the writing that disappoints but the ideas behind the writing that I don't like. I really like Updike as a person. Everytime I saw him interviewed, I walked away knowing that if I met him, I would want to be his friend. When he passed away, I had never read anything he had written, so as a small tribute I read one of his essays. Did not care for it one bit. Still like him but I may have to try this story so I don't judge his writing on one bad experience.

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  4. Zetor - Exactly...that's how I picture the 50's!

    John - I think Updike was portraying the 50's as mostly carefree and idyllic in this story. I may have given the wrong impression by including the 'we look drunk' quote. When the "parties got wilder", the 60's were getting started.

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  5. BookPsmith - The only Orwell I've read is what was assigned in high school, but I do understand the sentiment. I really liked Updike whenever I saw him interviewed, too.

    I did love In The Beauty of The Lilies and have kept it on my shelf, planning to reread it one day. Updike wrote SO MANY novels, maybe I just made a couple bad selections. Since he is famous for the Rabbit novels, I would like to try those one day. I haven't read his essays, but I may get a collection of his stories from the library.

    It IS a great story title, isn't it - lol!

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  6. I've never read anything by John Updike. This one sounds good - is it the best one to start with?

    Please check my blog for an award for you.

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  7. BooksPlease-
    Staring with short stories is certainly less of a time investment than a novel, and Updike has written MANY stories to choose from! I really loved his novel In The Beauty of The Lilies, but the Rabbit novels are the most famous. I hope to read those one day, too.

    Thank you so much! I'm on my way to your blog now...

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Thank you for taking the time to comment. These conversations are my favorite part of blogging. Please check back, I almost always respond to comments!

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