Books: Punch Lines TRUST ME

by John Updike Knopf; 302 pages; $17.95

Except for a gent who has had a stroke and two senior citizens with cancer, most of the protagonists in this collection of short stories suffer from Updike's disease. By now readers should be familiar with the symptoms: a wistful feeling of dislocation from the things and relationships of routine life, and chronic elevator stomach, as if the Fall from Grace were a perpetual state of being. Updike's afflicted are invariably middle-aged, middle-class males who, with their wives, ex-wives, mistresses, natural and acquired children, seem to inhabit a blue version of the Lands' End catalog. Alcohol abuse, infidelity and a numbing...

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