My Lover Has Dirty Fingernails – John Updike
Taken from the collection ‘The Music School’.
“In this short tale from 1967 we are at first given no clue to the relationship between the woman who enters the room and the man behind the desk. Only as her story unfolds do we realise he is someone she is confiding in and we are led to assume he is her therapist or doctor. They appear comfortable with each other as though these weekly visits have been happening for a while. This becomes even more apparent as she freely talks through the disintegration of a past relationship. Whilst she comes across as certain in her mind, her therapist appears frustrated by her and the magic of this short story is in the way that he feels free to challenge her motivations. The twist comes in her inability to accept his criticisms, artfully and manipulatively throwing his accusations back at him. She, surely, can’t be to blame for the ending of the relationship.
As one of America’s finest exponents of the short literary form, Updike is a master of the under-stated. What about this for a wonderful phase: ‘He was immobile, smiling the lightest of listening smiles…’? Rather than leaving you wishing for more the story gently but irrevocably shifts one hundred and eighty degrees to a conclusion as satisfying as the therapist’s own cautious final sigh.”
The SHORT TALE Review 2016