Thursday, September 24, 2009

Transformative Metaphor in Updike's Early Stories

As I continue to read The Early Stories, I am taken by Updike's use of metaphor. Two, in particular, have been so startling and apt that I would call them "transformative," in that they transport the reader out of the story for a moment, only to drop her back in with a changed view of the world of the story. When combined with Updike's exquisite descriptions, these metaphors make for a sublime reading experience.

Here is the first, from "Still Life":

He felt she quite misjudged his seriousness and would have been astonished to learn how deeply and solidly she had been placed in his heart, affording a fulcrum by which he lifted the great dead mass of his spare time, which now seemed almost lighter than air... (205)

It's so shocking that it completely takes the reader out of the narrative, but so apt that one is able to reenter without much trouble.

And then from "Who Made Yellow Roses Yellow?":

How tender of Clayton still to drink beer! By a trick of vision the liquid stood unbounded by glass. The sight of that suspended amber cylinder, like his magic first glimpse of Clayton's face, conjured in Fred an illusion of fondness... [they exchange a few words, then:]

Fred felt not so much frustrated as deflected, as if the glass that wasn't around the beer was around Clayton. (230)

One is aware of a keen intellect at work-- keen eyes to make the observation in the first place; keen mind to make the connection. And the reader's thoughts about the relationships between people--in this case, strangers barely turned acquaintances-- is forever changed.

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