Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike

The Witches of Eastwick
by John Updike
1984, Alfred A. Knopf
307 pages

In the months following John Updike's death, I've sensed a renewed interest in his work. The Witches of Eastwick has been on my shelf for years, and this seemed like a good time to pull it down and finally read it.

From the back cover:
In a small New England town in that hectic era when the sixties turned into the seventies, there lived three witches. Alexandra Spofford, a sculptress, could create thunderstorms. Jane Smart, a cellist, could fly. The local gossip columnist, Sukie Ridgemont, could turn milk into cream. Divorced by hardly celibate, the wonderful witches one day found themselves under the spell of the new man in town, Darryl Van Horne, whose strobe-lit hot tub room became the scene of satanic pleasures.
To tell you any more, dear reader, would be to spoil the joy of reading this sexy, hexy novel by the incomparable John Updike.

Obviously, these blurbs are meant to sell books, but The Witches of Eastwick isn't quite as raunchy as this one makes it sound. However, it didn't quite deliver on the "joy of reading" either.

From the outset, it's clear the witches are not popular with other women of the community.
"...I don't know why these women bother to go on living, whores to half the
town, and not even getting paid. And those poor, neglected children of
theirs, it's a positive crime." pg. 127

As strange activities occur at the Van Horne mansion, tension between the witches and the community mounts.
"When she tossed the ball up, it became an egg and spattered all over her
upturned face, through the gut strings. Sukie threw down her racket in
disgust and it became a snake, that had nowhere to slither to." pg.

Newcomers to the mansion crowd lead to doubts, suspicion, more spells and an unfortunate resolution.

There are, however, passages that are vintage Updike, including a couple of my favorites:
"Certainly the fact of witchcraft hung in the consciousness of Eastwick, a lump.
a cloudy destiny generated by a thousand translucent overlays, a sort of
heavenly body, it was rarely breathe of and, though dreadful, offered the
consolation of completeness, of rounding out the picture..." p.210

"It [witchcraft] had the uncertain outlines of something seen through a
shower door and was viscid, slow to evaporate: for years after the events
gropingly and even reluctantly related here, the rumor of witchcraft stained
this corner of Rhode Island, so that a prickliness of embarrassment and unease
entered the atmosphere with the most innocent mention of Eastwick."

Unfortunately, there weren't enough passages like these and the book failed to live up to my expectations. In The Beauty of the Lilies will remain my favorite Updike novel and perhaps someday I'll read the Rabbit novels. I will pass on The Widows of Eastwick, Updike's final novel and sequel to Witches, released last summer.

My rating for The Witches of Eastwick is 3/5.
This book is my second read for My Year of Reading Dangerously challenge.


  1. I'm just not a fan of Updike or Mailer or Roth or Bellow. But I do like Cheever, and I just saw on your sidebar you had read The Swimmer. Last year I listened to this:

    and it was excellent. He certainly captures a time and place like no other. His daughter, Susan, wrote once that there was a rock that had scars on it in their driveway from all the drunks hitting it as they left from a Cheever party.

    I love your blog headers. Each one you put up just creates a nostalgia in me for something I've never even had (a lakeside house or cottage).

  2. Nan,
    Updike is my favorite of the group you listed. I've never cared much for the others. Cheever is an author I've just started reading, but am really enjoying so far. I couldn't get your link to work. The end of it may have gotten cut off. Is it a Cheever audio?

    I'm so happy you like the headers! There is something very special about being around the lake...different pleasures with each season. Photos barely begin to capture it, but I keep trying!

  3. I've never read much Updike. I have always meant to read The Witches of Eastwick and have toyed with the idea of getting the Widows, as well. It's always a shame when books don't live up to your expectations. I recently got my husband a nice Everyman's edition of the Rabbit novels. I'll probably read them before he does. :)

  4. Lisa,
    I have friends that loved Witches, but it just didn't do it for me. Updike is such a good writer though and I will try the Rabbit books one of these days. The Everyman's editions are really nice! I have a couple on my shelf waiting...The Woman in White and Bleak House.

  5. I've always been pretty unaware as far as Updike is concerned. I heard of the movie, but had no idea he wrote this.

  6. John,
    When the movie came out, I don't think most people were aware that it was based on Updike's book. I'm not sure how closely it followed the book anyway.


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