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Couples: A Novel Paperback – August 27, 1996


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 458 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks; Reissue edition (August 27, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 044991190X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0449911907
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1.2 x 8.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (62 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #159,456 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review

Couples [is] John Updike’s tour de force of extramarital wanderlust.”—The New York Times Book Review
 
“Trapped in their cozy catacombs, the couples have made sex by turns their toy, their glue, their trauma, their therapy, their hope, their frustration, their revenge, their narcotic, their main line of communication and their sole and pitiable shield against the awareness of death.”—Time
 
“Ingenious . . . If this is a dirty book, I don’t see how sex can be written about at all.”—Wilfrid Sheed, The New York Times Book Review

From the Publisher

12 1.5-hour cassettes --This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.

Customer Reviews

I also felt sad for the people when I finished the book.
Mike F
The story was complicated (way too many characters) and didn't seem to have any purpose or recognizable story line.
Jane Braun
Not your average all-American society maybe but perhaps a more realistic view of sexual morals.
Tony Britton

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

42 of 44 people found the following review helpful By J. Grattan VINE VOICE on June 2, 2006
Format: Paperback
Set in fictional Tarbox, MA in the early 1960's, this book of 1968 was certainly a risqu' and revealing look at marriage in a small suburban community at a time of increasing sexual awareness and openness. Looking back, the sexual content is actually rather mild, but, more importantly, it seems that the type of communities and lifestyles that Updike describe have been swallowed up by vast, numbing suburbs, where traffic is terrible, wives work, and neighbors are strangers.

Yet, the book is a keen look at the dissatisfactions of marriage. Most of the couples knew or suspected that unfaithfulness was occurring among themselves, but they seemed to understand, if only subconsciously, that infidelity was or could be an outlet for the limitations of a spouse. The central character is home remodeler Piet Hanema, married to the sublime, but unapproachable, Angela, who seems to be happiest when in the arms of his latest lover. Updike's entry into this world is at the point when the Whitman's move in: he a professor and Elizabeth, or Foxy, a tall, winsome beauty who is also pregnant. Their old home on the coast requires extensive renovation providing the opportunity for Piet and Foxy to start a complicated relationship that that has community-wide consequences.

The book is a challenging read containing Updike's typical complex descriptions of various scenes, etc. And the interactions of the various couples, usually at some sort of party, while revealing and sometimes insightful, do get tedious. The author hardly advocates this sort of group infidelity. In fact, there is a pervading sense of sadness about the book as many of the couples go their own way, their problems resolved or not. It is a simplification to label this book as one primarily about "wife swapping." For one, that is wrong, and secondly it is about people trying to find some happiness or connectedness in their lives.
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36 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Andrew on July 18, 2001
Format: Paperback
Updike's portrait of the upper middle class in a sleepy Boston suburb in 1963 when people actually had more time than they knew what to do with seems almost as distant and foreign to our overworked present as Fitzgerald's Jazz Age. Set on the eve of the sexual revolution, the novel explores a circle of couples who nearly devour each other out of jealousy, lust and boredom. Yet, the book is not without its tender sides, as Updike manages some hard-won sympathy for his protagonist Piet Hanema, the philandering grown boy of a man who does very bad things for very sad reasons. Richly-detailed with references of the time, COUPLES is a vivid snapshot of America, or at least one slice of it, in 1963.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Michael Battaglia on September 18, 2007
Format: Paperback
I don't think anyone reads John Updike books to feel good about themselves, unless they want to feel glad that they are not the people in his novels. His characters are constantly flawed, strewn with cracks, by turns petty or manipulative or simply ignorant, doing things out of self-interest or boredom and seeming to not understand the consequences of their actions, or knowing them full well and doing it anyway because they just don't care. Which, in all honesty, is what makes his books worth reading. Couples is the story of a small town and the yes, couples that live in bored upper class leisure in the town and how they interact. That's pretty much it and yet it remains strangely fascinating, even though all Updike really does is play them off each other in as many permutations as he can manage until he runs out of pages. At the time I think the book was considered shocking for its frank depiction of infidelity and at times it does seem like all anyone in the town is interested in is sleeping with as many other people as possible. Yet it's not the act itself that matters, but the reasons why they do it. Beceause they're bored or they're not in love anymore or they feel constricted, because they want to get a reaction, or maybe convince themselves that they can still react. The action, as it is, tends to center around Piet, who is married to Angela but seems to still enjoy playing the field and it's what he does that drives what there is of the plot. Much like Updike's Rabbit, he's not a role model but an extremely flawed human being who does callous things and convinces himself that he's doing them out of kindness.Read more ›
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36 of 42 people found the following review helpful By U Might B Wrong on November 16, 2000
Format: Paperback
Having read many of Updike's books (he's my fav. author), I rate Couples in the middle. The book is full of subtle symbolism and not-so-subtle symbolism, and has the Updike trademark of colorful imagery. It is a fair treatment of the complexities of infidelity.
However, I found reading it a bit of a chore. If you want to read Updike, this one should not be your first. I'd recommend the second Rabbit book, Rabbit Redux.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Scott FS VINE VOICE on March 12, 2010
Format: Paperback
This is a prototypical Updike novel, in my opinion. Here he tackles the convoluted longings and messy interpersonal relationships between Foxy and her contractor Piet. Foxy is married, of course, but that doesn't stop our randy boy Piet from trying to bed her. Set in a tense New England town, the dour weather and the hard-edge environment may have something to do with Foxy's dissatisfaction, with her husband and with life in general. The much-about-town Piet just views Foxy as another conquest, but serious complications occur when something happens to Foxy, and Piet's own life starts to unravel.

Other reviewers have panned this book or damned it with faint praise, but I enjoyed it a lot. It is a faster read than the Rabbit novels, less serious in tone, perhaps lighter in writing, but with serious, dark issues the characters must face.

Updike seems to be saying, 'every action has a consequence'. Highly recommended. Perhaps one has to be familiar with the period to give it five stars. I could place much of the angst of the period, though I was too young to have lived it like Piet and Foxy.
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More About the Author

John Updike was born in 1932, in Shillington, Pennsylvania. He graduated from Harvard College in 1954, and spent a year in Oxford, England, at the Ruskin School of Drawing and Fine Art. From 1955 to 1957 he was a member of the staff of The New Yorker, and since 1957 lived in Massachusetts. He was the father of four children and the author of more than fifty books, including collections of short stories, poems, essays, and criticism. His novels won the Pulitzer Prize (twice), the National Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Rosenthal Award, and the Howells Medal. A previous collection of essays, Hugging the Shore, received the 1983 National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism. John Updike died on January 27, 2009, at the age of 76.

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