The Maples stories - By John Updike


THE MAPLES PRESENTED themselves to the writer in New York City in 1956, dropped from his sight for seven years, and reappeared in the suburbs of Boston in 1963, giving blood. They figured in a dozen stories since, until the couple’s divorce in 1976. Their name, bestowed by a young man who had grown up in a small town shaded by Norway maples, and who then moved to the New England of sugar maples and flame-bright swamp maples, retained for him an arboreal innocence, a straightforward and cooling leafiness. Though the Maples stories trace the decline and fall of a marriage, they also illumine a history in many ways happy, of growing children and a million mundane moments shared. That a marriage ends is less than ideal; but all things end under heaven, and if temporality is held to be invalidating, then nothing real succeeds. The moral of these stories is that all blessings are mixed. Also, that people are incorrigibly themselves. The musical pattern, the advance and retreat, of the Maples’ duet is repeated over and over, ever more harshly transposed. They are shy, cheerful, and dissatisfied. They like one another, and are mysteries to one another. One of them is usually feeling slightly unwell, and the seesaw of their erotic interest rarely balances. Yet they talk, more easily than any other characters the author has acted as agent for. A tribe segregated in a valley develops an accent, then a dialect, and then a language all its own; so does a couple. Let this collection preserve one particular dead tongue, no easier to parse than Latin. To the fourteen Maples stories I have added two that from the internal evidence appear to take place in Richard Maple’s mind, and a fragment that cried off completion.


In the thirty years since the above preface was written, this collection of linked stories, quickly assembled to coincide with a made-for-television movie called Too Far to Go, has had a gratifying career in paperback: in England as a Penguin book titled Your Lover Just Called, and in translations into, by my reckoning, German, French, Spanish, Dutch, Serbian, Japanese, and Hebrew. Some of the German editions of Der weite Weg zu zweit were in hardcover, but this is the first hardbound edition in English. I was delighted to be told of it, and have availed myself of the opportunity to revise a few words and phrases, and to include one more Maples story, ‘Grandparenting.’ The couple surprised me, in the mid-Eighties, by reappearing in a wintry Hartford, married to others but brought together by the birth of their first grandchild. I have not encountered them since, though mutual friends assure me that they are both still alive and look well, considering.



THE MAPLES HAD moved just the day before to West Thirteenth Street, and that evening they had Rebecca Cune over, because now they were so close. A tall, always slightly smiling girl with an absent-minded manner, she allowed Richard Maple to slip off her coat and scarf even as she stood gently greeting Joan. Richard, moving with an extra precision and grace because of the smoothness with which the business had been managed – though he and Joan had been married nearly two years, he was still so young-looking that people did not instinctively lay upon him hostly duties; their reluctance worked in him a corresponding hesitancy so that often it was his wife who poured the drinks, while he sprawled on the sofa in the attitude of a favored and wholly delightful guest – entered the dark bedroom, entrusted the bed with Rebecca’s clothes, and returned to the living room. Her coat had seemed weightless.

Rebecca, seated beneath the lamp, on the floor, one leg tucked under her, one arm up on the Hide-a-Bed that the previous tenants had not as yet removed, was saying, ‘I had known her, you know, just for the day she taught me the job, but I said O.K. I was living in an awful place called a hotel for ladies. In the halls they had typewriters you put a quarter in.’

Joan, straight-backed on a Hitchcock chair from her parents’ home in Amherst, a damp handkerchief balled in her hand, turned to Richard and explained, ‘Before her apartment now, Becky lived with this girl and her boyfriend.’

‘Yes, his name was Jacques,’ Rebecca said.

Richard asked, ‘You lived with them?’ The arch composure of his tone was left over from the mood aroused in him by his successful and,