‘Separating’ by John Updike

Only space for one of either Updike, Cheever or Alice Munro in this selection. Cheever’s ‘Country Husband’ was a strong contender, as was Munro’s ‘Wild Swans’, but in the end it had to be Updike – the superior stylist, with the greater amplitude, the more comprehensive chronicler of late twentieth century America. It was a toss-up between ‘Pigeon Feathers’, ‘Trust Me’, ‘Bech and the Bounty of Sweden’, ‘Short Easter’, and ‘Separating’. The latter won because it is the most affecting and the most memorable. The tears of the narrator as he cuts the lobster in the mocking sunshine while his family regroup for a final family meal is superb, while the question asked at the end by the narrator’s son cuts to the quick. 

First published in The New Yorker, June 1975. First collected in Problems and Other Stories, Knopf, 1979, and most recently in The Maples Stories, Everyman, 2009. Read the story online here

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