Book Review: “A & P” by John Updike
By, Afua Serwah Osei-Bonsu
A suspenseful short story, full of male allusion, by John Updike, is titled, “A & P.” The story takes place in a supermarket-based setting, that involves a unique plot when a young man becomes aroused when three young girls arrive at the supermarket from the nearby beach in swimsuits. Updike comically describes a young man saying “hap-py pee-puhl, (splat).” (97) It is as if the world would emanate from simple exchanges such as this or if somehow this is “the people.” The young girls, inappropriately, shop the store while the cashier, a young man struggles with a multitude of thoughts surrounding their indecency. Of the girl’s inappropriateness, Updike with candor, details via narration by one of the cashiers, how it severely impacts the customers and the workers. The plots action rises as the girls shop the supermarket and arrive at the supermarket stall “as would sheep.” (Updike 96) Another allusion is conjured when the young girls’ purchase is suggestive of his manhood (the cashiers, main protagonist, Sammy), “the small can of herring snacks in pure sour cream for 49 cents.” (Updike 96) The story climaxes first when, the narrator says, “then everybody’s luck begins to run out,” (Updike 96) and the manager arrives. It is one of Updike’s several “male-like” descriptions as if his luck was embedded in those young girls and the “run out” was the main protagonists own discharge. The climax begins to fall when the cashier, “Sammy,” declares that he is quitting, likely as a result of the sexualized encounter, which seemingly could have caused discomfort. Despite the arrival and disgruntles of the manager, the 3 young girls make their purchase and exit. When Sammy finally quits and arrives the parking lot there is a “married couple screaming with children” and the girls have vanished. (97) This is perhaps Updike’s final description of perhaps how the world arrives, if you will, the man sees woman, man becomes aroused, the man goes searching for the woman etc.
Updike, John. “A&P.” Literature and Human Experience, edited by Richard Abcarian et al., Bedford/St. Martins, 2017, pp. 93-98