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The Witches of Eastwick Paperback – August 27, 1996

3.2 out of 5 stars 78 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

“John Updike is the great genial sorcerer of American letters [and] The Witches of Eastwick [one of his] most ambitious works. . . . [A] comedy of the blackest sort.”—The New York Times Book Review
 
“A great deal of fun to read . . . fresh, constantly entertaining . . . John Updike [is] a wizard of language and observation.”—The Philadelphia Inquirer
 
“Vintage Updike, which is to say among the best fiction we have.”—Newsday

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9 1.5-hour cassettes --This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 306 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine; Reissue edition (August 27, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0449912108
  • ISBN-13: 978-0449912102
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.7 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #29,661 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
John Updike astutely recognizes the modern American suburb, with its hypocritical social mores and superstitions, as a rich literary setting. Into this milieu he introduces the fantastical and invents a tale of what life would be like for three divorced and bored housewives, who happen to be witches, living in such a place -- the fictitious Eastwick, Rhode Island -- in the late 1960's. It's like Updike is channeling Nathaniel Hawthorne through "Rabbit Redux."
The women are Alexandra Spofford, a sculptress, Jane Smart, a cellist, and Sukie Rougemont, the local gossip columnist. They drink a lot, neglect their kids, have sex with married men, and cast spells to torment their enemies, who are usually their lovers' wives; they have the traditional witchlike manners of being vindictive, temperamental, and spiteful. They've never desired a man in common until they meet a vaguely devilish fellow named Darryl Van Horne who has bought an old mansion on the outskirts of town. Van Horne is quite mysterious: He's a Manhattanite, a pianist, a collector of tacky nouveau art, and a renegade scientist, trying to discover impossibly efficient methods of generating electricity. He takes an interest in Alexandra's crude little sculptures, accompanies Jane in some sonatas, and encourages Sukie to write novels. He invites them to play tennis (where their magic lends itself to some creative cheating) and partake of the orgiastic pleasures of his hot tub.
The witches' auras induce strange and tragic effects on the lives of their lovers. Ed Parsley, the Unitarian minister, runs off to join the anti-war movement, leaving his churlish wife Brenda to take over the pulpit. Clyde Gabriel, the editor of Sukie's newspaper, is stuck with a gabby wife who gets her satisfaction from finding fault with everything.
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Format: Paperback
I quite like the film and thought the book would be similar. The book is in fact much better than the film. I love Updike's modernisation of historical stereotypes of witches and witchcraft - maleficium, familiars, witches' marks, the devil. I love its historical period that is so obvious, yes not cringeworthy as some other books set in recent history can be. While the film is set in the 1980's (check out those perms) the book seems to be set in the late 60's - early 70's with references to Vietnam and Pop Art.

Updike's powers of description and similie are really gorgeous, I can visualise so well with this book I feel like I'm there. I wonder if it is particularly appealing and interesting to me because he describes nature so well? The sudden little magical occurances in the story are also unexpected and then pleasantly surreal. In addition, the witches' powers are not the usual stuff that you now expect from TV or film like Charmed or The Craft. I was interested to see how Updike handled female characters, him being a man and all, and they actually seem quite convincing to me. I don't think think the story is misogynist.

In this age of do-good modern witchcraft it is initially confrontational to read a book about witches where ethics is not a high priority in magic, yet it is also refreshing in a way. "The Witches of Eastwick" reminds me of the spell books by Valerie Worth in its general amorality and, I think, also of her particular, unusual aesthetic. I found that I couldn't wait to get back to it whenever I had to put the book down for other pressing duties. Also, while some fiction drives me mad with its implausibility, in this case it doesn't, and that is possibly because Updike's writing is so attractive that I don't need the story to be completely believable. Maybe potential to succumb to belief is peculiar to the mind of the beholder?
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Format: Paperback
As other reviewers note, Updike does spend a lot of time on details; that is what I love about this book. The little details make the book real to me, then Updike throws something so tiny yet unbelievable (Sukie turns milk into cream for her coffee) into the mix. That just knocks my socks off! Of course there is plenty of Updike's neurosis about adultery, his conflict about God and religion, commentary on bourgeois mores. I just love his decriptions of the Lenox mansion, the insufferable wives of the witches' lovers, their spells made up of household items. I love how he describes Alexandra's Algerian brocade jacket and Sukie's suede skirt. The characters seem like so many of my mom's friends when I was growing up - women without husbands sort of befriending each other (divorcees and widows are a threat to married women). I don't have any scholarly discussion to add - it's been done here already. Just wanted to chime in about how much I love this book.
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Format: Paperback
Reading Updike is like a hike in the woods, where the path suddenly opens onto an amazing and beautiful vista, which leaves a feeling of awe and gratitude as the hike moves forward. In THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK, it's these sudden brilliant offerings of expository landscape--Alexandra at the beach during a storm, Alexandra crossing a flooded causeway in her panties, or Jane playing her cello--that make the hike worthwhile. Yes, TWOE also offers an abundant flowering of metaphors, as well as unexpected twists and turns on the narrative path. Even so, this hike isn't all great. And, there are mosquitoes.

Other reviewers have already identified what I view as shortcomings in TWOE. First, there is a gruesome event in the middle, which divides the novel into distinct parts. Here, the first tells the story of the witches--Alexandra, Jane, and Sukie--and their involvement with the very strange Darryl Van Horne, who pushes their artistic sensibilities. Meanwhile, part-two is the denouement, where Updike follows the effect of this gruesome event on the witches and Darryl. In overview, this sounds like well-constructed fiction. But the horrible mid-book tragedy disturbs the arc of the narrative and part-two takes time to develop. For a while, part-two is almost like starting a second novel.

Second, I'd say the witchy talents of Alex, Jane, and Sukie, while always surprising, were unconvincing. Not that I'm an expert. But isn't the genius of magical realism its ability to make the impossible a plausible force in a narrative? Yet in this case, the witchy powers in TWOE just seem like a narrative device, which the women use to channel their anger.

Updike definitely pulls everything together in the final 30 pages.
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