This essay Pigeon Feather has a total of 2286 words and 10 pages.
John Updike tells good stories in his new collection, "Pigeon Feathers." What's more -- or, rather, what helps to make them good -- is his conspicuous devotion to the perilous marksmanship of words.
All readers are bound to be grateful to him for that. He is no Pater and he is no Joyce. Clichés and banalities he knows, have their valued uses in making a story flow. They provide comfortable, reassuring cadences -- and he employs them when he does not want to interrupt our concentration on what's going on with a trip to the dictionary or a muttered what-the-devil-does-that-word mean.
Time and again, though, he finds just the right words to give a fresh shine to a familiar situation. He speaks, for example, of an encounter with a very junior doctor, "not much older than myself but venerable with competence and witnessed pain."
He skips the bits about the smell of hay and harnesses to tell us, with Thoreauvian precision, that: "A barn, in day, is a small night."
In his own words about words he reminds us of the "curious and potent, inexplicable and irrefutable magical life language leads within itself" -- not entirely unaided, of course, by wide margins, Devonshire-cream paper, and clear type.
Speaking of which, I am happy to report that his publisher felicitously chimes Mr. Updike's Pennsylvania-Dutch tones with a Linotype contribution named for Janson, a Dutchman. And paper made at Spring Grove, Pa.
Over Territory and Time
The stories in "Pigeon Feathers" float from Pennsylvania to England, to New England, to New York, and always back to Pennsylvania. In general outline and under various names the characters are repeated as frequently as characters are repeated when you are reading the works, say, of J.D. Salinger or John P. Marquand.
An iconoclastic schoolteacher father, an indomitable mother, an even more indomitable (if you will) grandmother, a dozing grandfather and a scholarly, slightly girl-shy young man who wants to write are in the original cast. There are parts for children of two generations: the one seen in a mirror, the other viewed from parental altitudes. Eventually, I imagine, that second generation will start writing stories about Mr. Updike's slowly aging cycle. That should keep the genealogists of lit'ry criticism busy, shouldn't I?
At first glance Mr. Updike's range seems narrow. As a matter of fact, though, it is wide. If he repeats himself it is from choice, not necessity. And he can sketch a whole world, the intellectual world of the swarming foundation grantees, by merely saying that, on a ship crossing of the Atlantic, there was "blackjack with the Rhodes Scholars and deck tennis with the Fulbrights."
Yet he is not a pennon bearer for a new generation of American writers. The sense you got when you first read F. Scott Fitzgerald or Ernest Hemingway or William Faulkner that -- like it or not -- American literature was off in new directions, shattering matrixes of the past, does not rise from Mr. Updike's pages. Rather, he has the calm assurance of a man at work in a familiar field to which he brings a penetrating power of discerning the unusual beneath the commonplace.
Revelation in Phrasing
He can, for example, express the cooling of a marriage in a few lines of the story called "Walter Briggs." Riding through the countryside, the young husband and the young wife become engrossed in a time-passing game of remembering odd characters. Later, the man reflects he was happy that "they had discovered such a good game for the car just when he thought there were no more games for them."
However, I must add that in other stories about men and women Mr. Updike beats that central favorite idea to shreds as he examines lives on his sedulously provincial landscapes.
Those who endure most are those who count most in these stories. They may be callow youngsters who survive an age when their prose styles seem marinated in Swinburne, or persons of a stature with one glorious old lady: "Shaped like a sickle, her life whipped through grasses of confusion and lethargy that in a summer month grew up again as tall as before."
j ohn Updike is the most talented writer of his age in America (he is 30 today) and perhaps the most serious. His natural talent is so great that for some time it has been a positive handicap to him -- in a
Topics Related to Pigeon Feather
John Updike, The Same Door, Rabbit, Run, The Poorhouse Fair, Pigeon Feathers and Other Stories, American literature, J. D. Salinger, Telephone Poles, Rabbit Redux, pigeon feathers, spring grove pa, devonshire cream, j d salinger, john updike, indomitable mother, story flow, life language, magical life, junior doctor, pennsylvania dutch, clich, general outline, cadences, marksmanship, schoolteacher, original cast, dutchman, pater, harnesses
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