To Carter Billings, the hero of John Updike’s title story, all of England has the glow of an afterlife: “A miraculous lacquer lay upon everything, beading each roadside twig, each reed of thatch in the cottage roofs, each tiny daisy trembling in the grass.” All twenty-two of the stories in this collection—John Updike’s eleventh, and his first in seven years—in various ways partake of this glow, as life beyond middle age is explored and found to have its own particular wonders, from omniscient golf caddies to precinct sexual rumors, from the deaths of mothers and brothers-in-law to the births of grandchildren. As death approaches, life takes on, for some of these aging heroes, a translucence, a magical fragility; vivid memory and casual misconception lend the mundane an antic texture, and the backward view, lengthening, acquires a certain grandeur. Travel, whether to England or Ireland, Italy or the isles of Greece, heightens perceptions and tensions. As is usual in Mr. Updike’s fiction, spouses quarrel, lovers part, children are brave, and houses with their décor have the presence of personalities. His is a world where innocence stubbornly persists, and fresh beginnings almost outnumber losses.
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