THE MAPLES STORIES by John Updike (Everyman's Library, 256 pages, $15).
In the history of American literature, there is surely only one case of a major writer's career being reassessed because of a network television adaptation. But that's what happened following the 1970 television adaptation of John Updike's 17 short stories about Joan and Richard Maples. Though written separately over two decades, Fielder Cook's TV movie of William Hanley's script treated them as one continuous story which, of course, they are. Not only was the TV movie brilliant network television of a now vanished sort, it was a career high for its lead actors, Michael Moriarty, whose professional life collapsed tragically into alcoholism, political dissidence and personal chaos, and Blythe Danner, who has never worked nearly enough (but who, in motherhood, at least gave us Gwyneth Paltrow).
The result of the TV show is that all of Updike's Maples stories were collected into a paperback called "Too Far to Go" in America and "Your Lover Just Called" in England. To many, it comprises one of Updike's finest novels, if not THE finest.
And now on the lip of the network premiere of our era's more ghastly way with great writers -- TV's spinoff of the movie version of Updike's lesser novel "The Witches of Eastwick" -- we have Updike's Maples stories reissued together once more to compete with the all-too-easy assumption that his four-novel Rabbit Angstrom saga comprises the truest Updike.
Nothing against "Rabbit Run" and its progeny but his continuing tale of The Maples -- rounded off in this new version (logically enough) by "Grandparenting" which first appeared in 1994's collection "The Afterlife" -- still seems, in its terse, wickedly cunning way, as elliptically powerful a rendering of a decaying suburban marriage as Updike ever gave us. And the new edition, with "Grandparenting," is the way to have it.
-- Jeff Simon