‘Problems’ by John Updike

Updike, John 1975

Problems by John Updike, 1975

The magic trick:

Telling the story of marital distress through math word problems

This is our third straight day of John Updike looking for new ways to explore matrimonially distress. We’ve seen him compare it to a television commercial, a committee meeting and, today, a math test. This story feels more like studying for the GRE than literature. By design, of course. The word problems are funny by themselves. Together, the six problems form a pretty sad story. Frankly, the whole thing feels the most like a gimmick of the three stories in question, but it’s still interesting. And that’s quite a trick on Updike’s part.

The selection:

  1. During the night, A, though sleeping with B, dreams of C. C stands at the furthest extremity or (if the image is considered two-dimensionally) the apogee of a curved driveway, perhaps a dream-refraction of the driveway of the house that had once been their shared home. Her figure, though small in the perspective, is vivid, clad in a tomato-red summer dress; her head is thrown back, her hands are on her hips, and her legs have taken a wide, confident stance. She is flaunting herself, perhaps laughing; his impression is of intense female vitality, his emotion is of longing. He awakes troubled. The sleep of B beside him is not disturbed; she rests in the certainty that A loves her. Indeed, he has left C for her, to prove it.

PROBLEM: Which has he more profoundly betrayed, B or C?

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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