John Updike's first novel takes place at a home for the elderly (the poorhouse). Published in 1958, the novel takes place in the near-future and chronicles the struggle between the elderly "inmates" of the poorhouse and the new director, Connors. Connor is a relatively young man, and he's hated by the poorhouse residents, especially when compared to the previous director, the loveable Mendellsohn. This hatred seems to stem from mutual distrust and miscommunication.
The action takes place on the day of the annual fair, when the residents sell crafts and other goods to the local townspeople. The fair has always been the residents favorite day, although a burden they simultaneously resent. When the fair goes less then well, the residents revolt, albeit in rather passive ways, against their new leader, further delineating the lines between them.
Updike's greatest asset as a writer has always been his love of language and that gift is present even here, his first novel. Unfortunately, the novel lacks the stronger narrative drive he subsequently developed in novels such as the Rabbit series. At times, the novel is confusing and almost free-form in nature. This situation is particularly pronounced in the final third, when the townspeople converge on the poorhouse, introducing a multitude of new characters and stories.
Although brilliantly written, the novel is sluggish at times. At less than 200 pages, it nevertheless took me a relatively long time to struggle through. In the end, I appreciated many qualities of the book, but frankly I didn't really enjoy it. Recommended primarily for Updike completists.