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[535] The Witches of Eastwick – John Updike


” The three women, meeting downtown on Dock Street, checking in with one another by telephone, silently shared the sorority of pain that went with being the dark man’s lover. ” (Part ii, Maleficia, p.208)

In Eastwick, Rhode Island lives three witches: Sukie, gossip columnist for the local paper, is known for her superior beauty and liveliness; Jane, cellist and music teacher, is known for greater intensity and commitment to witchiness; and Alexandra, a sculptress who can create thunderstorms. Divorced but hardly celibate, the trio finds friendships with local married men—the minister, the choir director, the plumber—that come with benefits. They might be the last comfort to these men in stale marriages. Aside from these affairs, they devote themselves to artistic enterprises. Together they form an infrangible triangle on which their life rhythm depends—until one day they find themselves quite under the spell of the new bachelor in town, Darryl Van Horne, a wealthy New Yorker and inventor whose strobe-lit hot tub becomes the scene of satanic pleasures.

It was nice to have yourself known by a man; it was getting to be known that was embarrassing: all that self-conscious verbalization over too many drinks, and then the bodies revealed with hidden marks and sags like disappointing presents at Christmastime. But how much of love, when you thought about it, was not of the other but yourself naked in his eyes . . . (Part I, The Coven, p.83)

The overbearing but flirtatious Van Horne spurs the women on to higher artistic aspirations. Into them he imparts new creativity and motivations. Part social drama and part chick-lit, The Witches of Eastwick is sexy and playful, exploring gender issues in an era of moral confusion, when the country is overshadowed by the war in Vietnam. When the town minister runs away with a teenager, and the editor of the local paper takes his life after killing his wife, women assume men’s roles and become pillars of the local society. The novel takes a turn for darkness when the most eligible bachelor takes a wife who is neither of the witches. Pinning this new bride as the ultimate traitor, who is indebted to the witches’ kindness, they take revenge with their magical power—with undesired consequences.

That’s the kind of thing men are supposed to do. They’re supposed to adore us. They’re shits, try to keep that in mind. Men are absolutely shits, but we get them in the end because we can suffer better. A woman can outsuffer a man every time. (Part ii, Maleficia, p.160)

This book is light and fun to read. It’s fresh and constantly entertaining, although I won’t read another with the same subject matter. As the witches wield their power over the unknowing people in town, Updike’s writing also brings the history and culture of England radically to life. The friendship between the three women and how they live in mutual respect despite the differences are the triumphs of the novel. They are given a forceful sexuality and wit whereas the men are dupes wandering around with their penises. The ending is unexpected but reassuring.

307 pp. Ballantine. Paper. [Read/Skim/Toss] [Buy/Borrow]


2 Responses

  1. I never saw the movie and I realize, after reading your review, that I had no idea what this book was about. It’s on my list only because I’d like to read all of Updike’s work at some point.

  2. This book has always been on my radar, but I’ve never been in a hurry to read it becuase I really didn’t care for the movie version. After reading your review though, I think the book would be a hell of a lot better.

    That being said, I didn’t mind the TV series, only because it was over the top and kind of fun to watch.

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