Just finished a short story collection that contained John Updike’s The Brown Chest. Some of the best writing anywhere in a moving slice of life story. Here’s a couple of excerpts.

“In the first house he lived in, it sat up on the second floor, a big wooden chest, out of the way and yet not. For in this house, the house that he inhabited as if he would never live in any other, there were popular cheerful places, where the radio played and the legs of grown-ups went back and forth, and there were haunted bad places, like the coal bin behind the furnace, and the attic with its spiders and smell of old carpet, where he would never go without a grown-up close with him, and there were places in between, that were out of the main current but were not menacing, either, just neutral, and neglected.”

“Outside the guest-bedroom door, the upstairs hall, having narrowly sneaked past his grandparents’ bedroom’s door, broadened to be almost a room, with a window all its own, and a geranium on the sill shedding brown leaves when the women of the house forgot to water it, and curtains of dotted swiss he could see the telephone wires through, and a rug of braided rags shaped like the oval tracks his Lionel train went around and around the Christmas tree on, and to one side, its front feet planted on the rag rug, with just enough space left for the attic door to swing open, the chest.

“It was big enough for him to lie in, but he had never dared try. It was painted brown, but in such a way that the wood grain showed through, as if paint very thinned with turpentine had been used. On the side, wavy stripes of paint had been allowed to run, making dribbles like the teeth of a big wobbly comb. The lid on its brown had patches of yellow freckles. The hinges were small and black and there was a keyhole that had no key. All this made the chest, simple in shape as it was, strange, and ancient, and almost frightening. And when he, or the grown-up with him, lifted the lid of the chest, an amazing smell rushed out–deeply sweet and musty, of mothballs and cedar, but that wasn’t all of it. The smell seemed also to belong to the contents–lace tablecloths and wool blankets on top, but much more underneath.”

“The chest’s contents, unseen, darkened in his mind. Once in a great while his mother had to search in there for something, or to confide a treasure to its depths, and in those moments, peeking in, he was surprised at how full the chest seemed, fuller than he remembered, of dotted-swiss curtains and crocheted lap rugs and photographs in folders of soft cardboard, all smelling of camphor and cedar. There the chest perched, an inch from the attic stairwell and here it stayed for over forty years.”


  1. Dan Beeaff says:

    Suppose Trump would think this was about something else! Good story.

    Sent from my iPad



  2. Updike was so great. And amazingly prolific. He wrote novels, memoirs, book reviews, poems, essays. A brilliant guy.


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  • Copyright © 2011-16, Dianne Ebertt Beeaff. All Rights Reserved.
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