Posted on | March 18, 2012 | 7 Comments
Updike’s Rabbit series has been on my to-read list for a very long time, so I’m not quite sure how my foray into his world started with his final book, published in 2008. And, as the blurb on the back didn’t say anything about this book being a sequel of sorts to The Witches of Eastwick, which is also kind-of unfortunate for I approached this book as standalone. Which it possibly isn’t. That said though, this book can easily be read in isolation. It’s just that, sometimes, context is a good thing. But, anyway…
The Widows of Eastwick follows three witches who used to be friends in their youth, but have since gone their own separate ways, in marriage and parenthood. However, once their husbands have died, and the children move away, the “three old ladies, gone brittle and dry in their corruption” reunite.
As widowed Americans, they travel – first it’s Alexandra who goes to Canada alone, and then it’s Jane and Alexandra who go to Egypt together, and finally, the coven come together with Sukie, as they travel to China. This part of the book reads more like a travel brochure than a piece of fiction, and while descriptions are normally a good thing, this was just incredibly slow-moving, and had me longing for an uptick in pace.
The wait didn’t last too long, for when the witches visit the hometown they had run away from one summer, things start getting interesting. They gather that their crimes from the yesteryears would be forgotten by now, and nostalgia coupled with curiosity leads them back home. It doesn’t sound plausible, but as a reader, you go with it, for you want to see why Updike is taking the witches back to the scene of their past crimes – is it atonement, or is it for the victims to exact revenge?
The homecoming isn’t quite what they imagined. Eastwick has unsurprisingly changed over the years, from the fun hick place they all remember, to a homogenised one. For the most part, they are forgotten, but they meet Christopher Gabriel, who blames the witches for the unfortunate demise of his sister – and he is looking for recrimination by casting spells on the witches using electricity. This is serious mumbo-jumbo territory. The witches look to magic, in an effort to protect themselves, but… is it too little too late?
I hate saying this, but the book really did leave a lot to be desired. None of the protagonists were in the least likeable. Forget likeable, I couldn’t even relate to them at any level. The story came across as forced and instead of witchcraft, the theme seemed to be about three old ladies repenting their past – or the past they couldn’t have.
From the reviews I’ve read, this does not sound like Updike’s best work, so I suspect there will be more Updike on my reading list soon, for if nothing else, his writing is quite accessible (which surprised me). What would you recommend? And, should I go back to read about the shenanigans of the witches in their youth?