‘Minutes Of The Last Meeting’ by John Updike

Updike, John 1972a

Minutes Of The Last Meeting by John Updike, 1972

The magic trick:

Gently mocking small-town bureaucracy but also using it as a metaphor for a crumbling family structure

Well, this is a long way from Kafka and Gogol, even as the target of derision is the bureaucracy those masters so loved to hate. Updike handles the subject with a much different tone working toward a much different goal.

The bureaucracy here is played for laughs, quite successfully too. It is a very funny story. But it’s not Gogol-funny – there is no conjuring of nightmare here. Kafka-esque, surrealistic horror makes no appearance. It’s a light poke of fun.

But there’s also a heavier note being struck. It’s not difficult to read the ludicrous bureaucracy of the story as a metaphor for the chaos of family life – particularly as it features in Updike’s collection of marital collapse stories, Problems. The committee (family)’s original motivations and goals are long gone. Now they are functioning only on routine and something approximating friendship. The chairman (father/husband) is tired, thinks the committee (family) needs a change, and he’s ready to get out. The committee (family), meanwhile, keeps him coming back for term after term against his better judgment.

It is a fascinating and effective way of presenting a crumbling family structure. And that’s quite a trick on Updike’s part.

The selection:

The Chairman of the Committee again expressed his desire to resign.

The Secretary pointed out that the bylaws do not provide for resignation procedures, they provide however for a new slate of officers to be presented annually and a new slate of officers was being accordingly presented.

The Chairman responded that however on the new slate his name was again listed as Chairman. He said he had served since the founding of the Committee and sincerely felt that his chairmanship had become more of a hindrance than a help. He said that what the Committee needed at this point was new direction and a refined sense of purpose which he could not provide, being too elderly and confused and out of sympathy with things. That the time had come either for younger blood to take over the helm or possibly for the Committee to disband.

The Secretary pointed out that the bylaws do not provide for disbandment.

What do you think about this story? As always, join the conversation in the comments section below, on SSMT Facebook or on Twitter @ShortStoryMT.

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