‘The Egg Race’ by John Updike


The Egg Race by John Updike, 1977

The magic trick:

Using a variety of rich anecdotes and scenes that most writers would save as the basis for an entire story

Telling a story through a series of semi-connected anecdotes is a tried and true method. The danger is that you might burn through all of your ace material. Twenty good ideas rather than generating 20 stories become fodder for only one or two.

In “The Egg Race,” I was particularly struck by two of the contrasted scenes – one, the narrator shares a swim and beers with his growing son; and two, the narrator as a much older man visits a dying colleague in the hospital.

Either could easily warrant its own 5,000-word story. Instead they are brief pieces of one larger story here, bouncing ideas and emotions off each other for the reader to ponder. And that’s quite a trick on Updike’s part.

The selection:

One night in Iowa, on two beers each, they decided to take a swim in the motel pool. The pool lay green and still and inviting under the dome of stars amid the alien corn. They were the only swimmers. While Ferguson tamely crawled from side to side, the boy did backflips off the diving board. He had grown big with a puppyish thickness to his arms and legs, and each flip precipitated a tumultuous splash.

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