Old Girlfriends by David Updike isn't what I thought it would be. To me, the title implied some sort of stories about dating relationships and what was or could have been. What this book contains is 10 short stories that are not in any way related concerning everything to a teenage boy's first girlfriend to a guy meeting his mistress in church.
These stories are written from the first person perspective. This normally would allow the reader to understand the thought and feelings of the main character. In the Age of Convertibles, the following passage is an example of a romantic moment: "The car had a stick shift between the seats, which restrained my body's want to migrate over to hers and lie next to her, preferably with diminishing amounts of clothes." At no point does any real emotional state come across or teen sexual angst or involvement. It seems as though this young teenage boy is sitting back dissecting this entire scene.
In several stories, there seemed to be a common theme of infidelity. The main character in Kinds of Love even tries to rationalize infidelity while in church. There didn't seem to be any type of loyalty towards ones spouse or girlfriend in any of these stories. The main character in Old Girlfriends even went so far as to check out high school children as an adult.
The fact is, most of the main characters felt extremely selfish. They went after what they wanted without regard to their children, their families, their spouses or anyone else. The thought seemed to be if it worked for them and no one found out, than it was okay. From teenage drinking to sex with your student, nothing matters except what they want.
I didn't like these stories. I found them exceedingly flat. I didn't like or connect with the main characters. I did see promise in a few of them but that promise was not fulfilled. While everything was grammatically correct, that spark that brings a story to life was missing.
To be honest, I felt as if I were reading college English papers for a beginners creative writing class. These were the bones that the students wrote to build on and critique. In that context, they are great. As finished and ready to publish stories, I found them lacking. (Of course, this is totally my opinion as they are published.)
In this brilliantly told short story collection, critically acclaimed author David Updike skillfully portrays the multi-faceted nature of love and of the heart. From a father’s painful realization his son has discovered the dark heart of racism still beats, to a quiet love affair that needs an audience to bloom; from the bumbling of a professor who unwittingly falls for one of his students to the wistful memories of a bittersweet affair tinged in regret, Updike portrays the intricacies of loving someone with candor. Full of sparkling wonder and poignant melancholy alike, Old Girlfriends is a clear-eyed vision of the world we live in. Drifting from the unrequited to the secretive, the familial to the first poetic moments, this soulful collection leaves no avenue of expression untouched.