Short Story #302: Varieties of Religious Experience by John Updike

Title:  Varieties of Religious Experience

Author:  John Updike


Painting of John Updike.  Source: Kellogg has a front-row seat to the destruction of the Twin Towers and in that moment, loses all of his faith in God, despite being a practicing Christian all his life.  As he stands in his daughter's apartment trying to reconcile the world, he is at a lost in trying to make sense of it, while his daughter does her best to deal with her two daughters that are grappling with what has happened.  While he busies himself with things around the apartment and outside, he still has trouble reconciling what he has witnessed and his utter loss of faith.  The story jumps to a week prior to the event and a man named Mohamed who is in Florida at a strip bar.  He contemplates his forthcoming actions in contrast ot the scenes around him.  He is mentally preparing for the forthcoming task of flying a plane into the towards.  His partner is with him but a bit distracted by everything around him and eventually causes some issues, enough for a bouncer to approach them.  Mohamed explains that they are pilots and tries to de-escalate the situation.  The story then moves to Jim Finch who works in one of the towers.  He answers a phone call from his wife who is reminding him of errands he must run on his way home but he is a bit distracted. He keeps trying to interrupt and she finally catches on that there is something wrong.  He explains that something has struck the building.  His wife begins to panic but he remains calm, asking her to go to the house window to see what can be seen from their house in New Jersey.  She continues to panic and Jim tries to comfort her as he says his good bye.  He also encourages her that if something happens to him that she should go on with her life.  The story jumps to Caroline who is on a flight with others.  She and others begin to recognize that something isn't quite right.  Someone appears and gets people's attention, telling them to stay in their seats to avoid harm.  The passengers become increasingly anxious with some calling their loved ones.  The tension rises as passengers plot and execute an attack on the hijackers and as the plane plummets to its destruction Caroline says her prayers.  The story returns to Dan well after the aftermath of 9/11, with his family and we see the impact on the different family members as a result.  The story ends with a conversation between him and his granddaughters about how much will change as a result of the attack.


I'm rather fond of this story because it tries to connect and consider the challenges that such tragic events can do to people, depending on their context.  Belief is something that can be profoundly shaken or reinforced depending upon one's positionality to a particular event and I think Updike shows this well.  

Short Story #302 out of 365
Rating:  4 (out of 5 stars)
Date Read:  10/15/2014
Source:  You can read the full story 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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