In ‘‘The Slump,’’ John Updike uses the national pastime, baseball, as the setting to explore one individual’s frustration with the world. The story is told by a professional ballplayer who finds himself, for no identifiable reason, unable to hit as well as he once did. He thinks about why this might be, but not very deeply; for the most part, he accepts this slump as his fate and considers what it says about life in general. The story depicts the superstitious nature of athletes in the way that its narrator hopes for better days without having any hope that anything he can do would make his luck return.
Readers can see in ‘‘The Slump’’ the raw talent that has made Updike one of America’s most respected writers for over a half century. The story is meticulously detailed, with sharp observations of even the most seemingly irrelevant actions, raising them to the level of importance. It achieves a philosophical depth that most stories only aspire to. It is, however, very unlike most of Updike’s fiction. A typical Updike story plays out in relationships, examining the social expectations that surround most couples. In ‘‘The Slump,’’ however, the narrator’s relationship with his wife is described, but it is not an integral part of the story. Updike is a master at showing human interaction, and here he shows that he can be just as effective when writing an extended monologue.
‘‘The Slump’’ was originally published in Esquire in 1968. It is currently available in the author’s 1972 collection, Museums & Women, and is frequently reprinted in anthologies.