“Out on the Marsh,” the title story of this collection, is about growing up and growing old. The narrator is twenty-one and suddenly conscious of his age, of the fact of age, as he watches “the ancient and erect form” of Mr. Birch “gliding across the marsh in his aluminum motor boat, his arm raised in a wave, his collar flapping in the wind.” Like the other stories, this one is content to present rather prosaic images with a neat, economical freshness. The point about Mr. Birch is that his gestures signify a certain way of having lived a life. When he points out two forty-foot pine trees “he and his wife planted from pots,” the narrator knows that Mr. Birch is talking about his age and the choices he made. Not till then does the narrator really see his dog’s white muzzle, a sign of age he had never noticed before, a part of life he now must recognize.
These stories are about human perceptions. Often it is not until the last sentence that the meaning of a story becomes clear. In other words, the stories themselves enact a perceptual process, making readers see that more is inherent than seemed possible in Updike’s rather slight--even mundane--material.
The settings of these stories range from New England to New York to Italy and deal with the problems of the heart, with love and marriage and family. Updike opts for a subtle, quiet style that allows his situations to develop effortlessly. The seasons figure prominently in his plots, suggesting a cycle of human experience as the volume’s unifying motif.