Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Witches of Eastwick

from the diary: “Thursday 7/2/87

“[Greg and I] went to [the movie version of] The Witches of Eastwick, which ain’t much like the book at all. But was fun anyway.”

John Updike has a reputation as a literary novelist, which seems to mean Realism. You know, professors bonking undergrads (& feeling angsty about it), office politics, and heart attacks. So I was surprised when he published a book in which the main characters actually engage in magic/witchcraft. In a tennis game the balls turn into frogs, for instance. The story is set in a small town in Rhode Island and the witches dabble in “artistic activity, albeit of minor kinds. Lexa makes ceramic earthmothers, which are sold in the local crafts store, Jane plays the cello, and Sukie writes, badly, a gossip column for the weekly paper, her participles dangling like earrings.” Margaret Atwood’s review in the NYT is playful and Atwood seemed to be tickled by the book, though she does seem to find the witch’s dependence on men a bit suspect. The witches “are merely restless and bored; they amuse themselves with spiteful gossip, playing mischievous tricks and seducing unhappily married men.” Atwood does not, however, feel Updike’s sexual politics are here unfair to women; nobody comes off righteous.

As an old Ozzy I have to reproduce this paragraph: “Cotton Mather and Nathaniel Hawthorne aside, the great American witchcraft classic is The Wizard of Oz, and Mr. Updike's book reads like a rewrite. In the original, a good little girl and her familiar, accompanied by three amputated males, one sans brain, one sans heart and one sans guts, go seeking a wizard who turns out to be a charlatan. The witches in Oz really have superhuman powers, but the male figures do not. Mr. Updike's Land of Oz is the real America, but the men in it need a lot more than self-confidence; there's no Glinda the Good, and the Dorothy-like ingenue is a 'wimp' who gets her comeuppance. It's the three witches of Eastwick who go back, in the end, to the equivalent of Kansas - marriage, flat and gray maybe, but at least known.”

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