What Does Margaret Atwood Think of Eastwick?

I was lucky enough to meet a book critic named Richard Eder, who was getting rid of some of his large catalog of books as the local New York Times bureau in my city moves to a new, more homey location.

I told him we were reading Witches of Eastwick and he said, “I was one of the few critics who actually liked it.”

I told Eder I thought the book was bipolar, sounding as authentically female as a Margaret Atwood novel at one point, then driving full-force into Updike’s sex-crazed SOP. His response: “Yours is the opinion of most people I’ve met.” Unspoken: “But it isn’t mine.”

Eder wrote reviews for many publications, but  he was largely a Times man. However, his review of Eastwick did not appear in the Times. I haven’t found it yet, so it will have to be a post for another day. In the meantime, I did find the NYT reviwer’s piece. Shock and awe – it was reviewed by none other than Margaret Atwood. So if Updike is channeling her fantasy cum mature female at war with the world thing in Eastwick, what’s her reaction? In a word, she likes it.

THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK

By John Updike. 307 pp. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. $15.95.

”THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK” is John Updike’s first novel since the much-celebrated ”Rabbit Is Rich,” and a strange and marvelous organism it proves to be. Like his third novel, ”The Centaur,” it is a departure from baroque realism. This time, too, Mr. Updike transposes mythology into the minor keys of small Margaret Atwood’s most recent books are the novel ”Bodily Harm,” a volume of short stories ”Dancing Girls” and a collection of criticism ”Second Words.” town America, but this time he pulls it off, possibly because, like Shakespeare and Robert Louis Stevenson before him, he finds wickedness and mischief more engrossing as subjects than goodness and wisdom.

Mr. Updike’s titles are often quite literal, and ”The Witches of Eastwick” is just what it says. It’s indeed about witches, real ones, who can fly through the air, levitate, hex people and make love charms that work, and they live in a town called Eastwick. It’s Eastwick rather than Westwick, since, as we all know, it’s the east wind that blows no good. Eastwick purports to be in Rhode Island because, as the book itself points out, Rhode Island was the place of exile for Anne Hutchinson, the Puritan foremother who was kicked out of the Massachusetts Bay colony by the forefathers for female insubordination, a quality these witches have in surplus.

These are not 1980’s Womanpower witches. They aren’t at all interested in healing the earth, communing with the Great Goddess, or gaining Power- within (as opposed to Power-over). These are bad Witches, and Power-within, as far as they are concerned, is no good at all unless you can zap somebody with it. They are spiritual descendants of the 17th-century New England strain and go in for sabbats, sticking pins in wax images, kissing the Devil’s backside and phallus worship; this latter though – since it is Updike – is qualified worship. The Great Goddess is present only in the form of Nature itself, or, in this book, Nature herself, with which they, both as women and as witches, are supposed to have special affinities. Nature, however, is far from Wordsworth’s big motherly breast. She, or it, is red in tooth, claw and cancer cell, at best lovely and cruel, at worst merely cruel. ”Nature kills constantly, and we call her beautiful.”

Read more here

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