Looking Back through Wiser Eyes Times Heals in Updike's New Fiction

Article excerpt

Title: Licks of Love

Author: John Updike

Data: Alfred A. Knopf, 358 pages, $25

Review by Elizabeth Maupin

The long, lanky frame of Harry "Rabbit" Angstrom is nowhere to be found in Licks of Love, the new collection of fiction by John Updike. But Harry Angstrom's ghost runs through Updike's newest work, which closes with a 182-page novella called Rabbit Remembered. Rabbit is indeed remembered in this elegiac work. Better still, his ghost is laid to rest.

Fans of Updike's four Rabbit novels, from 1960's Rabbit, Run to 1990's Rabbit at Rest, will embrace this novella, which brings together the raveled threads of Harry's family 10 years after one final basketball game killed Harry.

Yet the healing tone of Rabbit Remembered extends throughout the new volume, which includes 12 short stories that also look to the past. It revisits the small-town Pennsylvanians, the artistic New Yorkers and the well-heeled Massachusetts suburbanites of countless earlier Updike novels and stories. In almost every case, they look back at themselves through wiser eyes.

Updike is now 68, close to the age Harry Angstrom would have been had he lived, and the writer's newest work is full of the mystery of change. His characters still look back on disappointed small-town childhoods and adulterous first marriages. But all of those seeds of dissatisfaction grew to flower long ago. Now these men have different wives, different lives, and the past has faded to a photograph of a strange and faraway land.

In The Women Who Got Away, the narrator realizes long afterward that the suburban malaise he remembers from his first marriage was not what he believed it to be. In New York Girl, he looks back on an idealized woman whose sense of reality turns out to have been much different from his.

In stories such as How Was It, Really?, Updike's narrator recalls a generation of young marrieds who raised their children through benign neglect while they themselves were drinking out on the porch, a generation more careless than the one that preceded it or the one that took its place. …

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