Bookmarks Issue: 
John Updike

A-My Fathers TearsJohn Updike's prolific career spanned more than half a century and included the acclaimed and award-winning Rabbit series, The Witches of Eastwick, Couples, The Early Stories, and In the Beauty of the Lilies. This posthumously published collection compiles some of his last short stories. We published a profile of Updike in our Sept/Oct 2005 issue and have made it available online at

The Story: In this melancholy collection of 18 short stories, all of them previously published, Updike reflects upon family, separation, reunion, and mortality. In "The Walk With Elizanne," a man returns to Pennsylvania for his 50th high school reunion. In "Varieties of Religious Experience," four people-including a brooding, contemptuous terrorist-relate the horrific events of 9/11. "The Full Glass" finds the narrator, nearly 80, accepting his mortality as he tries to recollect all the truly joyful moments in his life-from a tryst to holiday rituals. And in "My Father's Tears," a man remembers the only time he ever saw his father cry.
Knopf. 292 Pages. $25.95. ISBN: 9780307271563

Christian Science Monitor 4.5 of 5 Stars
"It is hard not to read this collection-as hyper-articulate and resonant as any he's written, and to my taste, more convincing and evocative than his late novels-without a sense of loss. There is profound sadness in knowing there will be no further bulletins from what Updike, in a poem commemorating his 73rd birthday, called 'A life poured into words.'" Heller McAlpin

Hartford Courant 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Like a painter returning to a compelling landscape to capture it in differing weather, seasons and slants of light, Updike in these stories explores again and again his boyhood, young manhood, middle age and encroaching senescence. ... These beautifully crafted, elegantly written stories are his valedictory to his readers." Carol Goldberg

St. Petersburg Times 4.5 of 5 Stars
"[Updike] knew for some time that he was facing death, and just as he had when he faced love, lust, ambition, failure, parenthood, aging and so many other universal human experiences, he fearlessly made his dying into material for his wonderful fiction. ... My Father's Tears is a moving, lovely coda." Colette Bancroft

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 4 of 5 Stars
"In this, his final collection of short stories, Updike never breaks his composure, even though it was clear his life was winding down. ... [The stories] are the same kind of small, controlled and carefully detailed pieces, studded here and there with those flashes of stunning bits of pure writing that Updike was so skilled at." Bob Hoover

Minneapolis Star Tribune 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Deeply concerned with aging, looking backward out of a sense that the end is coming, the stories are mostly somber and funereal in tone. ... The pieces are all recognizably Updike: His characters are typically men wrestling with faith and infidelity, and, as he often has in his career, he does them more honor than they always deserve by gracing them with his winking, observant prose." Mark Athitakis

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Among all the writers of our time, [Updike] was the most gifted in illuminating the phenomenological world. But in these stories ... the details tend to overwhelm the artistry of the stories themselves." T. Coraghessan Boyle

San Francisco Chronicle 3 of 5 Stars
"Coming at the end of a career as prolific as Updike's, My Father's Tears will most likely be recorded as a minor event, a compilation of B-sides to more fully formed versions of the same material. In this sense, it may be more for the aficionado than the casual reader." Adam Haslett

Critical Summary

Updike enthusiasts will have no trouble recognizing the author's stamp in this last, melancholy collection. Updike revisits characters and settings from earlier works as his male protagonists, now in their twilight years, glance wistfully over their shoulders at past lives and former loves. The New York Times Book Review cited this "obsessive recollection of detail for its own sake" as both a triumph and a limitation, but critics unanimously regarded Updike as one of the great writers of our time, with an exceptional body of work. Only the San Francisco Chronicle was less enthusiastic about this collection, citing repetitive story lines and self-absorbed narrators. Overall, however, critics described My Father's Tears as a poignant, compelling read-and a fitting culmination by an author who will be sorely missed.