John Updike: The Collected Stories, edited by Christopher Carduff

To reread John Updike is to remember just how upper-middle-class and masculine his fictional universe is. There are so many beaches, summer homes, reclining chairs, dentists, affairs, books, clergy, port and brandy, golf games, and trains to and from cities and suburbs.

But of course, Updike was also a great storyteller and a master of the short story. “Ace in the Hole,” his first, was published in the New Yorker when Updike was only 23, just graduated from Harvard.

Updike was the son of WASPs, and religion always haunted him, in spite of—or perhaps because of—the suburban trappings. The secular often stands in for the lost sacred in the lives of his characters. For instance, in “Intercession,” an early story, golf replaces a priest for the aptly named character Paul. And in a two-page tale titled “Archangel,” Updike wrote from the perspective of the angelic, explaining, “My pleasures are as specific as they are everlasting. . . . The freckles on the closed eyelids of a woman attentive in the first white blush of morning. The ball rapidly diminishing down the broad green throat of the first at Cape Ann.” That’s Updike’s local golf course in Essex, Massachusetts, according to editor Chris Carduff, in a note at the back of volume one of this set.