My latest review revisits a John Updike short story I read in college. I just wanted a quick lunchtime read. After revisiting There Will Come Soft Rains recently, this one had popped in my head as one I wanted to try to revisit at some point.
A&P: Lust in the Aisles by John Updike
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Our narrator (whom we find out is named Sammy), is working the cash register at the local A&P (for those not in the know, A&P was a grocery store based in New York that operated in the United States and Canada from 1859 to 2015), when three girls come into the store. The young ladies make their presence known to our narrator, who describes the girls at length right down to their facial features, physical attributes, and even what they are wearing. Sammy observes them from his perch in the checkout line, parading through the store behind their leader as they look for a very specific food item, oblivious to the rest of the world (or, at least, the world inside A&P). The story is the observation of a nineteen-year-old young man, on the verge of manhood, and his seeming boredom with the routine nature of working and shopping at A&P.
I first read “A&P” in a Literature and writing class my freshman year of college. Since it was set in the 1960s, and this was 2001 (which seems like a whole other time), the idea of what the girls were wearing causing such a scene for the ones who weren’t oblivious was actually quite funny. It helped that the story was already funny.
Sammy seems to be a young man not content to be ringing groceries up all day, unlike his co-worker Stokesie, who Sammy describes as believing he will be manager some day. I love the idea that Updike believes that in 1990 (the distant future!), A&P will be called “The Great Alexandrov and Petrooshki Tea Company” (the real name of A&P is The Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company”). I didn’t notice this in 2001, but this is an obvious nod to the times, since the story is set in the early 1960s, the beginning of the Cold War. Based on his observations alone, it is clear that Sammy is a cynic (possibly a romantic?), and that having this attitiude will benefit him in the future. He won’t be content to rest on his laurels, nor is Sammy willing to conform. He sees A&P as conforming to a societal norm. His epiphany at the end is not one to miss.
“A&P” was first published by John Updike in The New Yorker on July 22, 1961, and later included in Updike’s collection Pigeon Feathers. The story is as good as I remember it being 17 years ago as a 19-year-old college freshman. I found myself laughing at the descriptions of the girls the same way I did then. It was certainly a different time and place, which makes it even more entertaining to read.
If you need a quick read (the pdf I read from was three pages in landscape mode on my tablet) and want a little light-hearted humor, check this one out.