Short Story #264: The Rumor by John Updike

Title:  The Rumor

Author:  John Updike


Painting of John Updike.  Source:
Frank and Sharon are married and largely happy with their family and careers.  One day, Sharon hears a rumor that Frank had left her for a man.  Sharon laughs at the rumor since Frank is present while she hears about it on the phone.  The gossiper says she heard it from two sources.  She insists that it's all over town and that they should do something about it.  Sharon gets off the phone and explains the call to Frank who insists he is faithful and straight.  It's this reaction that raises some question in her mind.  Frank chides Sharon for taking the rumor seriously and Sharon explains that she's not but just curious where it came from.  Frank insists that there's nothing to the rumors and that didn't she recall their sexual past.  Sharon does but it was much more challenging and giving into pressure rather than fully embracing those sexual experiences.  His insistence only makes her question things more.  When she tells him who the rumors came from, he dismisses them because they are gay.  Over the ensuing days, Sharon begins to look for evidence and also begins to second-guess her interactions and whether people were taking pity on her.  Over this time, Frank begins to tease her about the idea.  However, it turns particularly ugly when Frank makes increasing sexual advantages and demands to which she is increasingly not interested in and must push him away.  Frank insists that the rumor doesn't exist and that she's the only one who believes it.  But now, Sharon believes something more is going on and he's hiding something.  He says that he isn't but the final line tells the reader that he is only half-lying.


Updike packs a lot into this story in terms of wealth of knowledge we learn about their relationship.  It's curious that the introduction of the rumor actually opens up a range of things Sharon already does not particularly like about her husband or finds disconcerting about their path.  It seems more that her clinging to it is an opportunity for her to exit.  Meanwhile, we get that final line that Frank is half-lying, which leaves us wondering if he is cheating, but with a woman.

Short Story #264 out of 365
Rating: 3 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  8/1/2014
Source:  The short story can be found at this website.  

For a full listing of all the short stories in this series, check out the category 365 Short Stories a year.

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