‘The Family Meadow’ by John Updike

The Family Meadow by John Updike, 1965

The magic trick:

Effortlessly reporting on a family reunion in great detail

Updike takes us to suburban New Jersey for this slice of waspy nostalgia. It used to be rural Jersey. Now it’s suburban. And that’s key, because ultimately the story’s message is one of passing time and the loss of what was.

But what I most admire about this story – and honestly, this is probably the kind of story I wish most I could write well, if I had to pick one kind – is the way Updike so effortlessly captures the scene. He reproduces every detail of the family reunion from the parking procedures to hot dogs on the grill so perfectly, you truly feel as though you are there. The descriptions are precise. The characters are 100-percent believable. It’s as if the best writer in the world was assigned by a magazine to cover a family reunion. He went out, he took copious notes, and he reproduced them for us all to read, cutting any fluff and only focusing on the essential. That he also is weaving in a theme of temporary bliss almost feels like a bonus.

And that’s quite a trick on Updike’s part.

The selection:

Early this morning, Uncle Jesse came down from the stone house that his father’s father’s brother built and drove the stakes, with their carefully tied rag flags, that would tell the cars where to park. The air was still, inert with post-dawn laziness that foretells the effort of a hot day, and between blows of his hammer Jesse heard the breakfast dishes clinking beneath the kitchen window and the younger collie barking behind the house.

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