Book 3 – The Witches of Eastwick

John Updike made his name with a book called Rabbit, Run, which told the story of a man who didn’t get women. At all. He didn’t get them so badly that he abandons his wife and toddler son within twenty pages of our meeting him. We go on to  read about him not getting women for about a thousand pages more, as Updike revived the character for three novel sequels and a brief postmortem memorial.

That is what people will remember Updike for forever and a day. His character is lazy, conservative, bombastic, greedy, selfish, myopic, and petulant. He’s also very much the opposite of those things at varying points in the story. That’s what makes him a great character. But beyond a doubt, he is the quintessential American male. The 1984 novel The Witches of Eastwick is the other book on the master list by John Updike.

Eastwick, which we start today, is far less regarded. If you’ve heard of Eastwick at all it is because of a 1987 all-star cast film version that had an intriguing poster of Jack Nicholson harnessing lightning bolts. That poster is worth taking a look at. It suggests that it is the male and not the females who dominate the story here. I haven’t seen the flick, but from what I know of the novel that is just the opposite of what Updike sought to accomplish. This is his ode to womanhood. It is about women aging and falling in love with themselves, not hating what they are not or what men (or other women) want them to be. At least, that’s what is might be about. Perhaps, instead, it is a satire of an ode to womanhood. Some critics have called The Witches of Eastwick satire as a deflection, made when the book was chided as misogynistic (we’ll soon find out why). But if it is a satire of being a woman, that would be a shame because then satire is as close as Updike ever got to delving into the female brain. I’d rather he attempt that honestly and fair than offer up a wink and a nod at writing full woman characters because he was too chicken to write it straight. We’ll see…

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