The major conflict in “Ace in the Hole” is between the juvenile mind of Ace and the business mentality of Evey. Like John Updike’s Flick Webb in the poem. “Ace in the Hole” () by John Updike: summary, analysis and commentary of the complete early and later stories, including the Maples and Henry Bech. Ace in the Hole has 7 ratings and 0 reviews. The extraordinarily evocative stories depict the generation born in a small-town America during the.

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John Updike’s first published story “Friends from Philadelphia”, was not the first story he wrote. Tje was “Ace in the Hole”, posted to the New Yorker on December 12holr in time for Updike – who dates each of his stories to the day on which “a completed draft was sent off in the mails, irrespective of later revisions” – to give this very grand collection, a half-century later, the same span of years as its principal source and subject: His first wedded protagonist steps out on page 81, in the eighth story, “The Persistence of Desire”, in which the idea of infidelity is already stirring, and it is only in the last sentence of the book, when this highly variable, many- named but always Updikiform personage is already remarried, that his first marriage truly ends: The stories are ordered not by date of first composition or publication or dispatch, but by their intrinsic chronology, that of the life – Updike’s – on which they directly draw.

Adultery deepens and dominates in “The Two Iseults” – a somewhat preposterous title. Then come the “Tarbox Tales”, then an oddity section, “Far Out”, that includes stories about an iguanodon, a baluchitherium, and a cyclops. Finally there is “The Single Life”: Updike lived alone for a year, although he was never unattached.

The introduction is mannered in Updike’s usual way, which is not to say it is uninteresting or unenjoyable. His statement of his aim – to “give the mundane holf beautiful due”, to be “immersed in the ordinary, which careful explication would reveal to be extraordinary” – is accurate, and his aim is also his achievement.

These, however, are strikingly banal phrases for a man with a half-century acquaintance with defamiliarisation and a boundless will to originality. And his fabulous conceit, which is usually somehow disarmed or at least dissembled, like Saul Bellow’s, or even sublimed away in the manner of Henry James, sticks out through his devices of impersonality, as when he explains his preference for a full collection over a selection: This is the septuagenarian preening, for none of these stories lacks merit or needs this justification.


It is a fabulous brood. Large weaknesses – errors – show in the earlier ones, but Updike touches his best almost from the start. Everything is already in place, or almost.

Ordinary quality

There is no significant evolution of style or worldview: Updike’s shocking honesty of report, which was condemned for its cruelty by Nicholson Baker in his book U and I, and which some find irredeemably unlikeable, comes early, and quintessential Updikean sentences – like them or jon – occur as early as Updike calls the stories “fragments chipped from experience and rounded by imagination into impersonal artifacts”, and they obviously don’t constitute an accurate autobiography of specific fact and circumstance.

Sometimes, though, he speaks openly for himself, and the fragments’ closeness to his daily experience gives them great authority as an autobiography of spirit, an authority not so easily found in novels, where imagination dilates and characters take off on their own.

What they reveal is an absolutely constant temperament. It is always intensely present in holf writing; it never vanishes into its art. Its ruling principle is transience, the ache of loss, especially loss still to come.

The pivot of its existence lies in the famous third story, “Pigeon Feathers”in which the boy David discovers that neither his relatives nor the local vicar really believe in life after death. Thus his own belief also fails, although he does not yet quite know it, and the scales of life tip hard and irreversibly. The remaining stories pile up in the pan of loss. When, asks Updike in his introduction, has happiness ever been the subject of fiction?

But it is the momentariness, and the loss it almost immediately affords, ave is thematically central.

Review: The Early Stories by John Updike | Books | The Guardian

What the stories log, as their author unstoppably takes “inward notes on the bright, quick impressions flowing over him like a continuous voice”, is his inability to settle in, to, for, on, or with the beauty to which he has unparalleled access. Is the inability the price of the access?

Some writers say that their gift of observation is an alienation, but it needn’t be. Is the problem that joy’s hand is forever at his lips, bidding adieu? Yes, if you like, for then the point is that joy is not happiness and that these stories are not about happiness, which is something essentially non-momentary, a relatively enduring state of being, something that many see clearly only when they look back. Updike’s honesty is applied to himself no less than others “himself” is shorthand: There is no bias in his domestic squabbles, which are – this is praise – sickening.


The commodification of women that occurs periodically in his writings is found here too, as when he sees all the women in his life as “broken arcs of one curve”, or has to laugh at the comedy of the female body, that good kind clown, all greasepaint and bounce.

But women commodify men no less than men women, and, crucially, Updike’s fictionalised reports of his own worst aspects are not in any way exhibitionistic unlike Rousseau’s, say, or, arguably, St Augustine’s. The Early Stories is a boundlessly vivid body of work. The speed and capacity of his world-hunger are astonishing. And yet his physicality is always on the edge of disgust. Ths is the inverse of Emily Dickinson’s she is the more powerful sensualist.

It is inseparable from the fastidiousness that founds his shocking penetration of insight. It is inseparable from his Manichaeanism “We think we are what we think and see when in truth we are upright bags of tripe”loss of faith stamping its little foot. It is tightly roped to his unbelieved-in, super-Protestant, spankingly transcendent God the perfect opposite of Bellow’s, so immanent, so Spinozan, as close and fishy – in Bellow’s image – as an unwashed updoke on a hot city day.

Updike itemises the world, but this is not a criticism. Analytical reduction is revelation, given this precision of sensibility. There are regions of feeling Updike knows nothing about; his grasp of the larger shapes of things seems always cognitive, inferred first and felt only later, if at all; there is a sense in which his early model, Updkie Salinger, is a greater short-story writer.

But Updike has wonderfully more information.

Reading the John Updike stories: ‘Ace in the Hole’

When George Herbert’s God looked down and denied humanity the blessing of rest, and singled out John Updikeas he quite clearly did, he had his reasons. Updike catches the finest shades of things, and in unrivalled quantity. Fiction John Updike reviews.