My Father's Tears and Other Stories
is a collection of short fiction by Pulitzer Prize-winning American author John Updike, first published by Knopf in 2009. The eighteen stories of this volume continue Updike's career-long examination of suburban ennui and the struggles of the Protestant middle class, now mixed with an elder's vantage point on issues like aging, illness, and the nature of memory and forgetfulness. Set in periods ranging from the Great Depression to the aftermath of 9/11, in places from the beaches of Morocco to the colorful streets of India, these tales are peopled with Updike's trademark characters searching for—or stumbling upon—the magic and the meaning in the mundanity of their lives.
The opening story of this collection, "Morocco," captures the misadventures of a boorish American family as they embark on a European vacation. The awkwardness of the entire trip culminates in a very specific moment on a Moroccan beach, where the family happens upon a naked man. Already feeling like the strangers in a strange land that they are, the family discovers the man is masturbating in plain view. The episode calls forth all the family's provincialism and quintessentially American puritanism.
Two stories take place in Spain. "Spanish Prelude to a Second Marriage" finds a man and his mother touring cathedrals while strategically attempting to avoid gypsies. In "The Accelerating Expansion of the Universe," Spanish thieves rob a middle-aged couple.
The story "Personal Archaeology" catalogs the items buried beneath a New England lawn. There is all manner of junk taking root in the earth, a symbolic mosaic of where we have been and what we have done. Peppered throughout the inventory of relics are memories of naughty little get-togethers during the 1960s. Updike seems to be saying that whether by choice or by circumstance, the memories of days gone by never stay buried.
In the story "Free," Henry is a recent widower still haunted by the memory of a long-ago affair he had with a saucy woman named Leila. Now that his wife is gone, Henry sets off to Florida to track down the woman who left such an impression on him. Haunted by the idea that he married and devoted his life to the wrong woman, he finds Leila with the hopes of picking up where they left off. While Leila is as feisty as ever, Henry realizes, with some shock, that she lacks manners and isn't a particularly nice person. Her sexual bravado and the sensual memories she trailed in her wake like cheap perfume obscured Henry to this basic truth about Leila. For comfort, Henry turns to his memories of his deceased wife, Irene, who now becomes the source of his fantasies.
"Varieties of Religious Experience" chronicles the differing perspectives of several characters in the wake of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. From the points of view
of survivors, victims, and even the terrorists, all seem to use their idea of God as both a comfort and blame for what transpired on that fateful day.
The title story centers on Jim who grapples with his rapidly advancing age and a series of tragedies. He remembers the deaths of his mother, father, and former father-in-law. Then, he reflects on his divorce from his first wife and his subsequent remarriage. At a high school reunion, Jim encounters a classmate now suffering from Alzheimer's disease. As the story ends, Jim takes stock of these tragedies—perhaps for the first time—and sees them for the great sadnesses they are. Yet, he is not able to cry.
"Blue Light" finds another aging hero, Fleischer, at the doctor. Suffering from psoriasis and pocked with precancerous growths, Fleischer, visiting the much-younger physician, feels utterly exposed in the glare of the examining light. This exposure reveals even deeper truths beyond the reality of Fleischer's body: He cannot connect with his descendants, and now that age and infirmity creep their way in, he fears what the future might hold.
An elderly man gets ready for bed in the final story, "The Full Glass." As his nighttime routine unfolds, the whole of the old man's life filters down into one single moment of pure happiness. Despite his age, despite knowing he is not long for this world, despite understanding that he won't be around to enjoy many more bedroom routines like this, the old man allows himself to experience this happiness. It is a lesson in impermanence and a reminder to appreciate the seemingly small activities that consume the bulk of our days.
The other stories collected in this volume are "The Walk With Elizanne," "The Guardians," "The Laughter of the Gods," "Delicate Wives," "German Lessons," "The Road Home," "Kinderszenen," "The Apparition," and "Outage."