Review

The Widows of Eastwick

by John Updike

More than 30 years has passed since the three lusty,
thirty-something divorcees of Eastwick, Rhode Island, romped
through the bedrooms of nearly every married man in town, casting
their spells and rightfully earning their reputations as wicked
witches of the East. After accidentally murdering a local woman
with their ill-conceived magical mischief, they left the village
behind and were never heard from again.

Together, they attracted a powerful current of wickedness, but
apart they were nothing more or less than normal women pursuing
normal lives with husbands, careers and families. They have kept in
casual contact over the years with the occasional card or phone
call, but without their mysterious cone of power, their interests
have diverged.

Now approaching age 70, the women are all widowed. Alexandra,
the eldest and perhaps most caring of the three, has settled near
Santa Fe, New Mexico, with her husband, who has gained fame as a
potter. When he dies, she stokes her wanderlust with a trip to
Canada. Upon her return she finds a letter from Jane, the dour,
acidic one of the trio, who has recently lost her husband and
suggests an overseas trip. In Egypt, Jane puckishly tries a small
spell in a pharaoh's tomb --- just to see if the old sizzle is
still there. Startled, Alexandra thinks she sees the mummy
move but, not anxious to bring back the old days, ignores it. On a
trip to China, another ancient artifact seems oddly alive in Jane's
presence, and she suspects that her friend is up to her old
tricks.

When they return from their second trip, they hear from Sukie,
the younger, vivacious cellist, that she too has lost her husband.
Sukie now lives in Massachusetts, and they invite her to join them
on another overseas adventure. Her financial situation is not as
secure as her two old friends, so she suggests that they spend the
summer back in Eastwick. When they hear that the mansion where they
first discovered their powers under the spell of Daryl Van Horn has
been turned into a timeshare condo property, they rent a suite.

Alexandra, Jane and Sukie may have put Eastwick behind them, but
Eastwick hasn’t forgotten them. Someone or something there is
out for retribution, and the ladies discover that the devilish
Daryl Van Horn’s experiments with electrical currents may
have some lasting effects. The temptation to regenerate their old
powers proves irresistible, and they lure the person they suspect
is doing them harm to the scene of their former magical
experimentations with unexpected and tragic results.

The Widows of Eastwick, like all mortal souls, are diminished by
their years yet strengthened by their experience. As they encounter
their old lovers and rivals, they are confronted with sometimes
ugly and often amusing truths about themselves.

John Updike’s mastery of our language and uncanny ability
to touch on women’s inner psyches holds this story of aging
beauty together perhaps better than the plot.  His
introspective musings on the human experience of watching advancing
years chip away at our still youthful desires and ambitions is at
once wistful, painful and intuitive. Updike is legion among
novelists who chronicle vivid characters (for example the
Rabbit series) through meaningful introspection. More than
just a roguishly timed publication about witches (it is almost
Halloween after all), THE WIDOWS OF EASTWICK will haunt the
reader’s self-awareness of time’s cruel
inevitability.

Reviewed by Roz Shea on April 27, 2011

The Widows of Eastwick
by John Updike

  • Publication Date: June 2, 2009
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books
  • ISBN-10: 0345506979
  • ISBN-13: 9780345506979