John Updike – The Widows of Eastwick

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?


7 Responses to “John Updike – The Widows of Eastwick”

  1. JoAnn
    March 19th, 2012 @ 4:11 am

    What great timing for this post – did you know it’s Updike’s birthday? I posted the article from today’s The Writer’s Almanac. Since I didn’t care much for The Witches of Eastwick, was never tempted to read The Widows of Eastwick. My favorite Updike novel is In the Beauty of the Lilies, but I hope to read the Rabbit novels some day, too.

  2. softdrink
    March 20th, 2012 @ 4:23 am

    I’ve never read Updike, but I did see the movie version of The Witches of Eastwick years ago. The characters in that weren’t very likable either.

  3. Alex (Sleepless Reader)
    March 20th, 2012 @ 12:04 pm

    I guess there is a reason why it’s not a very famous book. It does seem a bit all over the place…

  4. Cipriano
    March 31st, 2012 @ 9:34 am

    Hah! I am just about to begin The Witches of Eastwick with my ever-astute and wonderful Reading Partner.
    We’ve sort of taken to John Updike this past year — beginning with In The Beauty of the Lilies. It was great book, [I agree with you, JoAnn, above] as was Gertrude and Claudius and Terrorist.
    I’m going to go ahead with Witches, respecting your reservations about the Widows.

  5. Sarah
    April 2nd, 2012 @ 10:08 pm

    I have read The Witches of, but didn’t really feel that I got it. Haven’t been tempted to read Updike since, although I feel that I should. Looking forward to some Rabbit reviews to see if you can inspire me :)

  6. Joanna
    April 17th, 2012 @ 1:33 pm

    I started The Witches of Eastwick once but didn’t finish it, I really didn’t like it. I’m sure I’ve liked something by Updike in the past but for the life of me can’t think of anything right now!

  7. Literary Kitty
    April 27th, 2012 @ 5:17 pm

    Ah shame to hear this was a bit of a let-down – the plot’s always intrigued me although I’ve never got round to reading it.

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