New York Girl by John Updike, 1996
The magic trick:
Creating an superbly well-constructed metaphor for New York City’s allure
U is for Updike.
Metaphors involving sexual liaisons and New York City aren’t maybe the most original idea. But damn if Updike doesn’t pull it off here remarkably well. We get an elegant paragraph early on setting New York City in direct contrast to the narrator’s domestic existence back home in Buffalo. Of course, the woman he meets in Manhattan is a big part of this contrast. And yes, we again struck in Updike’s world by a remarkably selfish approach to sexual satisfaction. But in this story, at least, you can ignore the male gaze a bit and focus instead on the metaphor. The escape he seeks is only in part from his marriage, and New York feels like the key to a new existence. Even if you only read the story for its memorializing of faded affairs, you still leave the text feeling the energy and promise of the big city. And that’s quite a trick on Updike’s part.
Once you were in New York – I used to stay at the Roosevelt or the Biltmore right around Grand Central Station – you were on another planet, a far shore. It cried out for you to establish another life. Time, at home so filled with the needs of the house and the children, of the wife (Carol felt herself aging from her gray hairs to her varicose veins), was here your own, hours of it. And no one to tell you how to fill it, once the day’s appointments had been kept.
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