Posted in Short Stories

John Updike: The Persistence of Desire

I’ve said before that John Updike is the best author I know who writes about characters I don’t like. I base this on only a handful of short stories and one novel. So when I selected his short story “The Persistence of Desire”, I thought I knew what to expect but I was pleasantly surprised. I still don’t necessarily like the protagonist but he managed to put a smile on my face.

With dilated pupils, Clyde sneaks into Janet’s room attempting to rekindle the flame. I always have a thing for good physical comedy and if an author can do physical comedy with the written word then even better – and, here, Updike is even better!

While not really interested in Clyde, Janet is at least amused and asks a fairly obvious question:

“Clyde, I thought you were successful. I thought you had beautiful children. Aren’t you happy?”


To which Clyde classically replies:

“I am, I am; but” – the rest was so purely inspired its utterance only grazed his lips – “happiness isn’t everything.”

I think “happiness isn’t everything” could be the mantra for all of Updike’s stories or at least the ones I’ve read.

This story is included in The Oxford Book of American Short Stories edited by Joyce Carol Oates. I read it when I selected the Three of Spades for my Deal Me In 2020 short story project. Check out my Deal Me In 2020 list here. Deal Me In is hosted by Jay at Bibliophilopolis.



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