“Pigeon Feathers” showcases early several of Updike’s continuing strengths, for the story wrestles with ontological issues in a prose that is stately and powerful. David is a young boy who has moved with his parents to the rural Pennsylvania farm where his mother grew up, and the move has been disturbing. He is used to his parents’ bickering and his senile grandmother’s nervous habits, but when he stumbles upon H. G. Wells’s account of Jesus in The Outline of History (1920) that denies his divinity, “a stone that for weeks and even years had been gathering weight in the web of David’s nerves snapped them and plunged through the page. . . . ” The vague “terror” of his discovery of his mortality, “an exact vision of death,” follows him everywhere, and neither his mother (who senses that something is wrong) nor Reverend Dobson (his Lutheran catechism teacher) can help him. David has experienced his first loss of faith, and the “horror” does not leave him in the next difficult months.
Relief comes for David only when his mother asks him to rid the barn of pigeons, and he takes the Remington .22 he has received for his fifteenth birthday and kills half a dozen of the birds. In burying them, he studies their feathers and “a pattern that flowed without error across the bird’s body. He lost himself in the geometrical tides as the feathers now broadened and stiffened to make an edge for flight, now softened and...
(The entire section is 443 words.)