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The Witches of Eastwick: A Novel [Paperback]

John Updike
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Aug. 27 1996

Toward the end of the Vietnam era, in a snug little Rhode Island seacoast town, wonderful powers have descended upon Alexandra, Jane, and Sukie, bewitching divorcées with sudden access to all that is female, fecund, and mysterious. Alexandra, a sculptor, summons thunderstorms; Jane, a cellist, floats on the air; and Sukie, the local gossip columnist, turns milk into cream. Their happy little coven takes on new, malignant life when a dark and moneyed stranger, Darryl Van Horne, refurbishes the long-derelict Lenox mansion and invites them in to play. Thenceforth scandal flits through the darkening, crooked streets of Eastwick—and through the even darker fantasies of the town’s collective psyche.

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“John Updike is the great genial sorcerer of American letters [and] The Witches of Eastwick [one of his] most ambitious works. . . . [A] comedy of the blackest sort.”—The New York Times Book Review
“A great deal of fun to read . . . fresh, constantly entertaining . . . John Updike [is] a wizard of language and observation.”—The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Vintage Updike, which is to say among the best fiction we have.”—Newsday

From the Back Cover

"A Great Deal Of Fun To Read...Fresh, constantly entertaining...The text also abounds with delightful aphorisms for these times...John Updike remains a wizard of language and observation."

-- The Philadelphia Inquirer

"A wicked entertainment with lots (and lots) of sex...In book after book, Updike's fine, funny impressionistic art strips the full casings of everydayness from objects we have known all our lives and makes them shine with fresh new connections."

-- The New Republic

"A dazzling book...A very funny and very unsettling story of what witchcraft might look like if it were around today...Updike is devilishly clever."

-- Los Angeles Times

Selected By Time Magazine As One Of The Five Best Works Of Fiction Of The Year

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Slow, But Layered June 9 2004
Reading this book was like pushing a locomotive through a sea of molasses. Updike is apparently known for his very heavy descriptions, focusing in and in on seemingly unimportant details (like the scenery), and 'Eastwick' is no exception. Whether this appeals to you or not will most likely determine how much you like it. Literary trifles aside, this is a rich, sex-laden novel with lots of social commentary and underlying meaning. It's almost nothing like the movie as well; the characters are spiteful, hypocritical and vengeful, the magic seems to have more symbolism, and Darryl's role is somewhat different.
One flaw I saw with the novel was the fact that very little happened with any consequence. The witches have affairs all over the place, people die, and magic is thrown around a good deal, but it seems more for the sake of getting a vague 'impression' of what's going on, rather than pushing the non-existant plot forward. Much of the consequences in this novel usually result in something being gossiped about, and then it's back to the sex and hyper-focused detail and narrative meanderings, and then more sex.
In short, it'll be hard to sit on the fence about this one- it's not a likable book, but it'll be entertaining and thoughtful if you want it to be.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Which witch? Sept. 19 2003
I just finished reading this book. Boy, it is almost nothing like the movie. Aside from basic plot of "three witches in the town of Eastwick fall under the influence of a new man in town", the book and the movie have almost nothing in common. I don't want to give away too much of the book's plot, but the witches here are more promiscuous than in the movie. Just about every married man in town has an affair with one of the witches. Anyway, the book is a "good read", as they say, and you will probably enjoy it if you are not offended by sexual content.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Updike gives witchery a whirl. March 5 2002
By A.J.
John Updike astutely recognizes the modern American suburb, with its hypocritical social mores and superstitions, as a rich literary setting. Into this milieu he introduces the fantastical and invents a tale of what life would be like for three divorced and bored housewives, who happen to be witches, living in such a place -- the fictitious Eastwick, Rhode Island -- in the late 1960's. It's like Updike is channeling Nathaniel Hawthorne through "Rabbit Redux."
The women are Alexandra Spofford, a sculptress, Jane Smart, a cellist, and Sukie Rougemont, the local gossip columnist. They drink a lot, neglect their kids, have sex with married men, and cast spells to torment their enemies, who are usually their lovers' wives; they have the traditional witchlike manners of being vindictive, temperamental, and spiteful. They've never desired a man in common until they meet a vaguely devilish fellow named Darryl Van Horne who has bought an old mansion on the outskirts of town. Van Horne is quite mysterious: He's a Manhattanite, a pianist, a collector of tacky nouveau art, and a renegade scientist, trying to discover impossibly efficient methods of generating electricity. He takes an interest in Alexandra's crude little sculptures, accompanies Jane in some sonatas, and encourages Sukie to write novels. He invites them to play tennis (where their magic lends itself to some creative cheating) and partake of the orgiastic pleasures of his hot tub.
The witches' auras induce strange and tragic effects on the lives of their lovers. Ed Parsley, the Unitarian minister, runs off to join the anti-war movement, leaving his churlish wife Brenda to take over the pulpit. Clyde Gabriel, the editor of Sukie's newspaper, is stuck with a gabby wife who gets her satisfaction from finding fault with everything.
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This is a case where the movie is so different from the original novel that you will find yourself wondering if the person who wrote the screenplay ever read the book. The movie follows the book fairly faithfully for the first part, but after that, the movie takes a very different and much more feel good path.
But that aside, let's discuss the book as it is. The three witches are not particularly likeable. They are spiteful and vindictive. I guess I was dismayed at how much they talked about treasuring life, and then how quickly they would just kill someone or thing. I felt like Mr. Updike was trying to make some sweeping comment about humanity in general, but I never quite "got" it. It was almost as if, we had three different women, who just happened to be witches and we were given a look into how they would react if they really could make someone's life a living hell. As a character study, it was interesting. Jane seemed to be the most vindictive and hateful. Alexandra seemed the most caring, but even she had a vindictive streak that she usually felt sorry for after the fact. She managed to kill one day, and one squirrel just because they were irritating. Sukie struck me as the flaky one.
I feel that the novel was supposed to be an allegory, but I still found it a bit disturbing that the three witches were portrayed as quite so promiscuous. I just can't believe that in a small town, there could be three women that were having affairs with just about every married man in town and no one seemed to notice. It also seemed to be common knowledge that the three were witches and no one seemed to think that unusual.
In spite of the characters that aren't particularly likeable and the unbelievably of a lot of the novel, it still seems to draw you into the story and I found myself continuing to read, just to see how it all would end.
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars different from the movie
I had seen the movie a few times and as almost always, the book is different. It was an interesting read, but I would say it is darker than the movie.
Published 19 months ago by Pat J.
5.0 out of 5 stars Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered
When I finally got around to reading the novel the movie *CLAIMS* to be based on I was at first confused and then utterly delighted. Read more
Published on July 12 2004 by J.K.
4.0 out of 5 stars A Satanic Romp
I thought that this was a delightful comic novel by Updike set, (as usual?) in a small East Coast community, and (again, as usual? Read more
Published on Oct. 23 2002 by MR G. Rodgers
5.0 out of 5 stars An European approach to THE WITCHES OF EASTWICK
This extremely rich novel is an outstanding sample of American society (in New England)in the late 60's*, also because the main characters are mostly centered on women. Read more
Published on Feb. 6 2002 by ana teresa de castro
2.0 out of 5 stars Verbose, homophobic, and misogynistic.
Updike's novel is totally overworded with unnecessary details that fail to move the story on. Did we really need to know about Sukie contemplating the area between her legs while... Read more
Published on Aug. 9 2001 by "joegillis"
1.0 out of 5 stars The Witches of Eastwick: Male Feminism At Its Finest
There's a scene in "The Witches of Eastwick" when one of the witches raises a thunderstorm on a beach. Read more
Published on Aug. 15 2000 by George R. Galuschak
2.0 out of 5 stars Typical Updike...draw your own conclusions
I won't go into what I dislike about John Updike's writing. I'll try to stick to this one book, the only one of his novels I managed to finish, thus the two stars instead of one. Read more
Published on July 26 2000
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good, but not as good as Updike's best.
I found this a very entertaining read and finished it on a coast-to-coast return plane trip. There were several parts where I laughed out loud. Read more
Published on April 25 2000
5.0 out of 5 stars Scathingly funny, delicious and magickal
Three days ago I opened "The Witches of Eastwick" and immediately fell in love. Updike's language, his uncommon imagery, and his *knowing* of "what women think"... Read more
Published on Sept. 2 1999
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