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'Old Girlfriends'

'Old Girlfriends'

'Old Girlfriends'
By David Updike
Published by St. Martin's Press, 224 pages $24.99

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David Updike, son of the late John Updike, is known primarily as an author of books for young adults, but he has written fiction for a more mature audience. His first story collection, a slim one, "Out on the Marsh," came out 21 years ago. It included 15 short stories, some of which originally appeared in The New Yorker, as had the work of his renowned father.

A reviewer at The New York Times called the stories in this early collection "perceptive meditations on the passage from childhood to manhood."

Older characters populate the stories in David Updike's second collection, "Old Girlfriends." The setting is sometimes New England or Pennsylvania, but often it's more exotic: London, Kenya or St. Lucia. Given Updike's ancestry, it is not surprising that these stories exude spirituality, guilt and jealousy while exploring extramarital affairs and sexual longing.

In "Geranium," Michael is obsessed with the possibility that his 40-ish landlady is having an affair, and he's a bit upset that it's not with him.

"Kinds of Love" is a story that could easily have been written by John Updike, who died Jan. 27. Two lovers, who have met in church, have been carrying on an affair for more than two years. Daniel, however, cannot leave Rachel any more than he can leave his wife and daughter.

David Updike's characters, a cosmopolitan mix of Brits, Bostonians, Danes, Pennsylvanians and Trinidadians, sometimes grapple with racial discrimination; others embrace tolerance. In "A Word With the Boy," a father has to explain to his son why two London police officers have asked him to prove that his biracial son is indeed his.

In the best story, "Last of the Caribs," Martin, 40 and married and at a conference in the Caribbean, has a summer affair with a married woman from Denmark.

Still, he lusts after a young Caribbean Indian girl, in a village where racial distrust is mutual. He suspects that the people thought "he was there to take things away — beads, baskets, photographs."

By no means is the son as prolific as his father, but his writing is often poetic and elegant, and David Updike has the ability to craft a subtle and poignant story.

Joseph Peschel ( is a freelance writer and critic in South Dakota.

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