Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

In contrast to some of the other stories in Pigeon Feathers, and Other Stories, this narrative essay is bereft of any real plot, action, or dialogue. The technique is well suited to Updike’s tone and accentuates the protagonist’s dualistic nature. The diction of the story runs the gamut from stilted and monastic to lusty and sensuous; some antiquated phrases (memento mori) suggest the pedantic seminarian, others the efficient healer armed with “splints, unguents and spirits of ammonia.” Then there are phrases descriptive of his temporal side, as when he observes the “dimpled blonde in the bib and diapers of her Bikini, the lambent fuzz of her midriff shimmering like a cat’s belly.”

First published in The New Yorker magazine, “Lifeguard” is almost a parody of a sermon—sensitive and urbane, short and bittersweet, a parable about balancing piety and spirituality. For Updike it was a tour de force, demonstrating a continued mastery of style while expanding his thematic horizons. It is clever, if not hilarious, and thought-provoking without being overly ponderous.


(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

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Boswell, Marshall. John Updike’s Rabbit Tetralogy: Mastered Irony in Motion. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2000.

Greiner, Donald. John Updike’s Novels. Athens: Ohio University Press, 1984.

Luscher, Robert M. John Updike: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1993.

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