John Updike: A & P

May 12, 2009

I first read this story in a collection of short stories that I borrowed from the American Library here in Madras. Those were the days when one could walk into the library without having to go through forbidding security checks and formalities.  And those were the days when the library was a library, by which I mean a collection of books, and when there were books in a section called LITERATURE. Subsequently everything changed and I missed my favourite books that I used to borrow once in two years or so. Now even an honorary membership does not attract me, though this library is just a couple of IPL sixers’ away from my home.

In this 1961 story, the central character is Sammy, a counter-clerk in  a grocery store. He is bored of his routine job. The bunch of old, testy female customers and a martinet of a store manager annoy him. Into the store one day a trio of girls in beachwear saunter. Sammy’s heart leaps and, with one eye on the eyeful among the trio as they walk around browsing the shelves, he is not able to pay full attention to one of the above-mentioned regular customers. The manager notices this and gives a piece of his mind not only to his employee but also to the girls to whom he lectures that they can’t come into a store in that kind of dress and with sand sticking to their feet. Sammy feels terribly let down – not only for himself but also for the bunch of girls who are all of similar age as himself.

Sammy is a representative of a whole lot of younger generation rebelling against authority and lack of freedom.

On the spur of the moment he takes a momentous decision. In all our lives there comes a time when we have to follow our own heart and make a choice – whatever its repercussions be.

This story by the popular American writer John Updike, who passed away early this year, is not available online. But you are sure to get it in a library.