Thanks to the movie, people tend to assume that they know about John Updike’s The Witches of Eastwick: it’s the one where a hammy devil. John Updike is the great genial sorcerer of American letters [and] The Witches of Eastwick [is one of his] most ambitious works [A] comedy. Complete summary of John Updike’s The Witches of Eastwick. eNotes plot summaries cover all the significant action of The Witches of Eastwick.
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John Updike, Philip Roth, Saul Bellow and Norman Mailer may have first made their names as free spirits and prophets of liberation—in that capacity, I’ve seen their names linked with a motley crew, that also includes Hugh Hefner, Lenny Bruce and Woody Allen—but in time they became inextricably linked with a pronounced masculinist—in the minds of some critics, misogynist —perspective in American eastwifk that flourished during the second half of the 20th century. Of course, the attacks did not come solely from a feminist perspective.
Others, finding an easy target, took their best shots. David Foster Wallace called them “the Great Male Narcissists”—and, in a fine wjtches, dubbed Updike as the leading chronicler of “the single most self- absorbed generation since Louis XIV. A Book mixed in with the loot from their latest bank heist.
Wendy Lesser has labeled Eastwck as a “thorough misogynist. You felt yourself squirming, wanting to pull a blanket over you, preferably lead- lined, to shield yourself from the merest stray phrase or casual observation. Around the time he published The Witches of Eastwickthe author noted “I’ve been criticized for making the women in my books subsidiary to the men. Ah, the esteemed Mr. Updike, now eitches by his entry into late middle age, was turning a new leaf.
The three women in question—Alexandra Spofford, Jane Smart, and Sukie Rougemont—are smarmy, manipulative, caustic and catty. And did I mention that they are witches? As a result, these three amigas terrorize the local community, and it’s hard to uodike who fares worse, their friends or their enemies. The novel is not without its precedents. Fritz Leiber relied on a similar concept two decades earlier—a little less acerbically—in his novel Conjure Wife.
Updike offers blacker humor than any of witchees role models, and his book is at his best when it is most irreverent. Our three sorceresses have no monopoly on sacrilege here.
Their shared love interest, a new arrival in Eastwick named Darryl Van Horne, can give them stiff ipdike.
At one point in this novel, Updike lets his male lead deliver a guest sermon at the local Unitarian church on a subject of his own choosing—his topic turns out to be “This is a Terrible Creation. This section of the novel, which reads like Hunter Thompson delivering a mix-and- match school book report on “The Grand Inquisitor” and The Selfish Genecould stand-alone as a set piece or, with the addition of a few more one-liners, work as eastdick comedy stand-up routine.
Throughout much of this book, however, Updike seems to waver between two opposed approaches for his novel. For long stretches he remains determined to present a sober and fastidiously detailed “landscape” novel—one that captures this part of Rhode Island in the same way that Cormac McCarthy thw the US-Mexico border region or William Faulkner celebrates Yoknapatawpha County. Paragraphs stretch out over two or more pages, filled updik references to eastwicj, plant life, weather patterns, and local color.
Sometimes Updike is overly nohn in showing off the minutiae of his research—although, I hasten to add in his defense that this type of writing had more clout before the age of Googling, when the most obscure facts are only a few keystrokes away—but the better passages are quite breathtaking. The not-quite-straight sidewalks of Dock Street, shoveled in patches, manifested patterns of compressed bootprints, like dirty white cookies with treads…. The town itself in winter, deprived of tourists, settled eastwicj compactly upon itself, like a log fire burning late into the evening.
A dwindled band of teen-agers hung out in front of the Superette, waiting for the psychedelic-painted VW van the drug dealer from South Providence drove…. Martyrs of a sort were these children, along with jonh town drunk, in his basketball sneakers and buttonless overcoast…. Here adulterers and drug addicts constitute the local fauna. In this regard, Updike is fundamentally different from those authors who can commune directly with nature—like Dr.
Frankenstein, he needs the human element, the pulse, the updime of blood in the veins, the respiration, and plenty of body organs usually below the belt ones for this author to bring his creations to life. Hence I am not surprised that the best descriptive passages here—as with the sermon above, throwaway set pieces about a tennis game and the performance of Bach’s cello suites stand off never still lifes, but always imbued with passion and sometimes considerable angst.
The fuel that drives an Updike novel is invariably the frictive human element, which constitutes the second novel hidden between the interstices of Updike’s Rhode Island period piece.
The Witches of Eastwick – John Updike | Savidge Reads
The machinations of his three witches and their agendas—usually hidden, partially or wholly—with family, lovers, fellow citizens and the alluring Mr. Van Horne provide the animating spark here.
So much so that these sections tend to eclipse in your memory the sober, elegant writing that Updike periodically inserts to ground his fantastic story in everyday New England life. For all its flaws, the novel has considerable panache. Updike himself was charmed enough by his creation to write a sequel, and Hollywood was even more charmed—funding a big budget film of The Witches of Eastwick with Jack Nicholson, Cher, Susan Sarandon, and Michelle Pfeiffer in the star- studded cast.
That said, the book did nothing to endear Mr. Updike to his feminist critics, and tended to elicit even more criticism from that quarter rhe his earlier novels.
I suspect, however, that was part of Mr. Ted Gioia writes on music, literature, and popular culture. His newest book is The Jazz Standards: A Guide to the Repertoire. Click on image to purchase. The Year of Magical Reading click here. Welcome to my year of magical reading.
My choices will cross conventional boundary lines of genre, style and historical period—indeed, one of my intentions in this project is to show how the conventional labels applied to these works have become constraining, deadening and misleading. In its earliest days, storytelling almost always partook of the magical. Only in recent years have we segregated works arising from this venerable tradition into publishing industry categories such as “magical realism” or “paranormal” or “fantasy” or some other ‘genre’ pigeonhole.
These labels are not without their value, but too often they have blinded us to the rich and multidimensional heritage beyond category that these works share.
The Witches of Eastwick
This larger heritage is mimicked in our individual lives: As such, revisiting this stream of fiction from a mature, literate perspective both broadens our horizons and allows us to recapture some of that magic in eastwico imaginative lives. The Year of Magical Reading: Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie Week 2: Magic for Beginners by K elly Link Week 5: T he Golden Ass by A puleius Week 7: Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin Week Dhalgren by Samuel R.
Norrell by Susanna Eastiwck Week D angerous L a ughter by S teven Millhauser Week Conjure Wife by Fritz Leiber Week T he Hobbit by J.
A ura by C arlos Fuentes Week Faustus by T homas Mann Week O rlando by V irginia Woolf Week L ittle, Big by J ohn Crowley Week T he White Hotel by D. N everwhere by N eil Gaiman Week F ifth Business by R obertson Davies Week Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges Week B eloved by T oni Morrison Week P ractical Magic by A lice Hoffman Week The M agicians by L ev Grossman Week C loudstreet by T im Winton Week G ulliver’s Travels by J onathan Swift Week H arry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.
Rowlin g Week The C hronicles of Narnia by C. Hieroglyphic Tales by Horace Walpole Week Follow Ted Gioia on Twitter at www. The State of the Art Ballard, J. The Atrocity Exstwick Ballard, J. The Crystal World Ballard, J. Childhood’s End Clarke, Arthur C.
Babel Delany, Samuel R. Dhalgren Delany, Samuel R. Nova Dick, Philip K. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Ubik Dick, Philip K. Camp Concentration Disch, Thomas M. The White Hotel Tiptree, Jr. Slan Van Vogt, A. The Island of Dr. Robert Heinlein at A.