When is Henry, the main character in John Updike‘s late short story “Free”, actually . . . free? It may not be when Henry’s “too proper, too stoical” wife Irene dies of cancer, which follows the man’s long-ago love affair with a mistress, Leila. Now Henry and Leila are elderly. But do they feel free? When significant moments between a husband and a wife engender remorse is one of the story’s themes.

From My Father’s Tears and Other Stories, “Free” has moral resonance and is a small jewel of characterization. The sentences about Irene’s slow passing, with Henry beside her, are unforgettable, soberingly written.