AFTER OF THE FARM, Updike seems to have lost interest in the ability of the parental imagination to shape the world of the child. More commonly in his 1960s fiction, we find scenes in which a father realizes that his imagination no longer shapes the life of his child, generally a daughter. Near the end of “Man and Daughter in the Cold,” for example, the protagonist, Ethan, recognizes that, in her adolescence, his daughter, Becky, is breaking away from his control. The effect is almost nihilistic: “He was looking upon his daughter as a woman but without lust. The music around him was being produced, in the zero air, like a finger on crystal, by this hollowness, this generosity of negation. Without lust, without jealousy. Space seemed love, bestowed to be free in, and coldness the price. He felt joined to the great dead whose words it was his duty to teach.” Ethan's lust—frequently an imaginative agent in Updike's work—cannot touch his daughter, and thus she slips out of his grasp. As he does for Mrs. Robinson in Of the Farm, Updike connects Ethan's imagination with art (the literature he teaches) and with nature (the coldness that seeps in from the ski slope on which the story takes place)—but where her imagination is a live, vibrant force, his is ineffectual and dead, at least as far as it concerns his daughter. The moment recurs late in Couples, when Piet Hanema, his two daughters in tow, runs into his future lover, Bea Guerin, in the supermarket: “Piet was shocked to see that his elder daughter was, though not yet as tall as Bea, of a size that was comparable. While her father had been looking elsewhere she had abandoned the realm of the miniature. In this too strong light he also saw that her heated face, though still a child's, contained the smoky something, the guarded inwardness, of womanhood.” He feels, in this moment, his daughters slipping away from him, moving outside the realm of his understanding.
We have, then, two models of parent-child relationships. In The Centaur, Of the Farm, and several of the Olinger stories, we have parents whose imagination is so powerful that it creates a labyrinth through which their children must wander.