This selection of stories includes John Updike's most popular and critically debated short works. "Ace in the Hole," "A & P," and "Pigeon Feathers" are all characteristic of Updike's early style; indeed, 1953's "Ace" was the 21-year-old Updike's first story, written while he was still an undergraduate at Harvard. Many of these stories incorporate autobiographical elements--for example, Updike played basketball in high school like Ace, and like the family in "Pigeon Feathers," Updike's parents also moved to a rural area when he was a young teenager. To a greater or lesser extent, each takes the indecision of youth as its theme, and at the time, critics identified a disconnect between Updike's ironic social critique and his earnest portrayal of his characters' emotions (Mizener).
Although "Separating" and "Short Easter" were, like the other stories, first published in The New Yorker, they are dramatically different from Updike's earlier work. The heroes are introspective and ultimately impotent to change the courses their lives have taken. The main characters of "A & P" and "Pigeon Feathers" take real action to try to find their identities--Sammy quits his job, and David Kern slaughters pigeons in the barn. In contrast, Richard Maple and Fogel watch in dismay as their lives slide by. These stories touch upon many of Updike's enduring themes - God, sex and small-town America. (The Economist)