John Updike

Two samples from “Widows of Eastwick,” not John Updike’s best novel ever but still a pleasure to read:

One:

“Sukie had imagined before turning old that quirky bad traits and mannerisms would fall away once the need to make a sexual impression was removed. Without the distraction of sex, a realer more honest self would be revealed. But it is sex, it turns out, that engages us in society and keeps us on our toes and persuades us to retract our rough edges, so we can mix in.”

Two:

“She had watched the process of oxidization so intently that her brow and throat and collar area had sympathetically broken into a sweat. The circle she had drawn had become the base of a cone of power like a bison-skin teepee overheated by a cooking fire of mesquite twigs at its center.”

Samples don’t do him justice. It’s how the occasional phrase or a whole dense paragraph stops you, makes you hear differently, makes you realize how few words we are used to reading, used to thinking, used to using, used to maintaining in our orbit. Updike is accuracy and detail stretched to the nth degree and wrapped in imagination.

“Widows of Eastwick” is delicious-and a chance to reflect, Updike style. Other reviews complain about the travelogue stuff at the beginning. I say, go for the ride because Updike is your tour guide.

Watch these women re-connect with each other, listen to their inner thoughts about growing old (“thirty years had gone by like a game of pretend…”) or remembering old lovers as they tour Beijing, Banff and The Pyramids. Taut fiction structure? Updike never pledged anything of the sort. Enjoyable Updike prose? Throughout. Yes.

“Widows” is about homogenization, a country turning soft, about the riff-raff of America and the transformation of its towns (the barber shop to Ben & Jerry’s). It’s about wiccans, materialism, melancholy, quantum theory, and “how lightly civilization rests on the continents.” It’s about chakras and being cleansed. It’s about ceremonies. Compare living room “cone” scene with the big church scene.  (I’ll take the living room.) It’s about the astral plane and manufactured holidays. It’s about the “power of the cone.”

I can’t imagine reading “Widows” if you haven’t read “Witches,” particularly the references to previous enemies and doings.

“Widows…” is cartoonish at times, but it’s fun to watch Updike work in a playground with fewer rules and to pour attitudes and ideas through the minds of three very different yet connected women.

Throughout, there are many rich Updike observations and healthy heapings of creamy Updike prose.

It’s sometimes a bit much, just over the top. But it fits with the mystical, ethereal moments that pop up in this book.  This is probably not for everyone. For the Rabbit books alone (and even “Memories of the Ford Administration”) I will always read a new Updike.

“You cannot help but learn more as you take the world into your hands. Take it up reverently, for it is an old piece of clay, with millions of thumbprints on it.” – John Updike

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2 responses to “John Updike

  1. the loss of John Updike makes me wonder if the literary world is being replenished at the same rate that it’s losing such great writers

  2. Agreed — ! And I have yet to find somebody whose use of language was so strong, who seemed to know how to use every color in the box.

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