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The Widows of Eastwick: A Novel Paperback – June 2, 2009
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More than three decades after the events described in The Witches of Eastwick, Alexandra, Jane, and Sukieâwidowed, aging, and with their occult powers fadingâreturn for the summer to the Rhode Island town where they once made piquant scandal and sometimes deadly mischief. But what was then a center of license and liberation is now a “haven of wholesomeness” populated by hockey moms and househusbands primly rebelling against their absent, reckless, self-involved parents. With spirits still free but energy waning, the three women reconstitute their coven to confront not only this youthful counterspell of propriety but also the enmity of those longtime townsfolk who, through their youthful witchery, they irreparably harmed. In this wise and wicked satire on the way we make peace with our pasts, John Updike proves himself a wizard on every page.
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Their return to Eastwick is shocking to its inhabitants. Taking the only summer rental they can find--at the former Van Horne mansion, now condos--they discover that the town has changed, not surprisingly, and many of the people they knew there are now dead. "Eastwick's lost its messy charm," Jane notes. "There's something unfriendly out there," she believes. When they discover that Christopher Gabriel is in town, they know that this "disciple" of Darryl Van Horne, who is also the brother of Jenny Gabriel, will bring about a showdown that may cost them their lives.
Updike's prose often sparkles, filled with the figurative language he has made a trademark, and his tone keeps the reader amused and interested. The dialogue is often wooden, however, as he sometimes uses it to provide essential background information while attempting to advance the action. The first one hundred pages are devoted to the women's trips to Egypt and China, where they (and the reader) get lectured about other belief systems concerning man's relationship to the world of death, suggesting similarities between these civilizations from the ancient past and the women's own witchcraft.
The "witches" do not arrive in Eastwick until more than one-third of the book has passed, and though they try to correct past wrongs by doing present good deeds, they must also "watch their backs." The intensity of their malevolence, an involving feature of 1984's The Witches of Eastwick, disappears here, and with it much of the fun of reading. Here they are the possible victims of another's revenge--relatively passive characters who spend more time remembering their past lives than in making the most of their present lives. Those who enjoyed Witches, with its imaginative and unapologetically vengeful characters, may be disappointed by the characters' desire to make amends here, and the author's focus, late in the book, on possible scientific explanations for some of the witches' powers makes the novel less fantastic and, frankly, more pedestrian. n Mary Whipple
The Witches of Eastwick
Pigeon Feathers, my all-time favorite Updike creation,one of the best novellas ever written
Rabbit Angstrom : The Four Novels : Rabbit, Run, Rabbit Redux, Rabbit Is Rich, Rabbit at Rest (Everyman's Library)
In the Beauty of the Lilies
The Cambridge Companion to John Updike (Cambridge Companions to Literature)
In WIDOWS, Lexa, Jane, and Suki have recently lost their husbands after successful second marriages. WIDOWS begins with Lexa, the maternal presence in this friendship, killing time with travel, where awesome nature and inappropriate men fail to fill the void left by her husband's death. She is in the "the last life stage, a sprint to the grave in widow's weeds."
What Updike does in WIDOWS is to show Lexa and her old friends restarting their motors, indirectly facing death through travel, and regaining momentum in life. Then, they return to Eastwick, where Lexa feels guilt for her behavior as a divorcee and single parent and where Suki tries, in her lustful way, to regain her past. It's a great story and I finished WIDOWS in just a few days, fast for me.
I think with all Updike novels, the reader has to adjust to his style of lyrical and brilliant apercu. Here, Updike will have a character say or do something. Then, he follows with an amazing mini-essay that expands the moment. Here's an example from 227:
>>> "You were nicer," he said stubbornly. He was still a young man in the way his conversation didn't branch, didn't send out probes and amusing side shoots, but stuck to the same few thoughts, the same limited asexual agenda. He couldn't have lived with Darryl, that ramshackle magus of jubilant digression, very long. <<<
The difficulty in this approach is not that Updike explains the character; instead, his approach tends to overwhelm characters, with his pages given over to great insight, not his people. If you believe in creative writing dogma--where you show, not tell--it looks like Updike is breaking the rules. But in novels such as WIDOWS, my reaction is: So what? The brilliance more than compensates for his narratively overmatched characters.
This style is clearly a choice that Updike makes. In WIDOWS, the proof lies in pages 185-226, where the witches have a coven. Then, you are there, in the moment, watching as this unruly trio casts some spells. These pages are absolutely riveting, similar to the pages in Terrorist: A Novel, where Ahmad seeks the white truck. My point is that Updike can show his characters as well as anyone. He just prefers his own style.
WIDOWS is not a flawless novel. Updike never convinced me that the widows and Chris Gabriel have witch/wizard powers that inflict harm or can do good. And, the positioning that characters sometimes take in conversation is too full and deep for real life. Once again, this is the author taking over. Nonetheless, I greatly enjoyed WIDOWS and recommend it.
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Publication Date: October 14, 2008
More than three decades after the events described in The Witches of Eastwick, Alexandra, Jane,...Read more